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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Expert Who First Spotted Lyme In Ticks Calls ‘Chronic’ Lyme Overdiagnosed

Lyme disease is spread by deer ticks like this one. (Getty Creative Images)

Lyme disease is spread by deer ticks like this one. (Getty Creative Images)

Health officials are warning it’s going to be a big year for deer ticks, which of course can carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

It’s most prevalent in the Midwest and Northeastern states such as Connecticut, where the bacteria was first traced to ticks in the town of Lyme.

Dr. Allen Steere was 33 years old when he made that discovery in 1975, after a Connecticut resident came to him with swollen joints, flu-like symptoms and pounding headaches that no doctors could diagnose.

Since then, he’s been on what he’s called a “long journey” to research Lyme — in part, to debunk advocates, who he says too often claim that Lyme disease is chronic and should be treated with long-term use of antibiotics.

Steere acknowledges that a small number of some Lyme disease cases are persistent, but he tells Here & Now’s Robin Young that he advocates against treating it with long courses of antibiotics.

Interview Highlights: Allen Steere

On why people do not always respond to treatment

“Lyme disease is a disease that, without antibiotic therapy occurs in stages with different manifestations at each stage. The most common late manifestation of the disease is arthritis. So, most patients respond to antibiotic therapy, but one needs to take each stage of the disease and talk about it differently. There are also multiple post-Lyme disease syndromes. So, the disagreement is really about who has Lyme disease and who does not. As well as what does it require to kill the Lyme disease bacterium.”

On combating Lyme disease

“If the person has a chronic pain syndrome or a chronic fatigue syndrome, they are often very difficult to treat. Some people do have beneficial effects from psychotropic medication. In essence, one is trying to reset the neurochemistry within the brain. We don’t have any treatment that helps everyone. Some people will work at this through exercise and exercise programs — massage, acupuncture. I mean something may work for one person but not another person. So, someone may be helped by chronic antibiotic therapy. I think that’s true, but other people, not at all or they’re worsened. Lyme disease itself is a great problem, its epidemic in certain locations in the Northeastern United States, but pain and fatigue syndromes are also a great problem.”


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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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