Why doctors don't agree how to test, treat Lyme disease

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by JEAN ENERSEN / KING 5 News

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KING5.com

Posted on June 13, 2010 at 3:58 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:44 AM

Ten years ago, Julie Hutchingson came down with mysterious symptoms.

"Depression, severe fatigue, insomnia, series of vertigo, unexplained tendinitis that would not heal, floaters in my eyes," she said.

She went from doctor to doctor, who suggested it could be over 10 different conditions.

"A couple of doctors mentioned HIV, possibly AIDS," she said.

After seven years, she finally got a definitive diagnosis - Lyme disease. The CDC reports about 20,000 cases of Lyme disease have occurred in the U.S. in recent years but says actual numbers could be much higher.

Some doctors say the problem is the blood test.

"The CDC recognizes three strains right now, but there might be 300 strains," said Dr. Michael Cichon, Assistant Clinical Professor, University of South Florida, Tampa.

Doctors also disagree on treatment. Dr. Cichon uses IV antibiotic therapy for four months or longer on some of his patients. The Infectious Diseases Society of America says the long-term treatment carries risks like antibiotic resistance and infection and recommends a shorter course of less than two months.

"And all three studies indicated that prolonging antibiotic treatment after 60 days does not seem to have any further effect," said David Balkwill, PhD, Professor of Microbiology, UCF College of Medicine.

"The Infectious Diseases Society needs to stop their guidelines. Make them just recommendations," said Dr. Cichon.

One thing most agree on is that change needs to happen.

Julie underwent long-term antibiotic therapy. She hopes to save others from the unanswered questions that troubled her for years.

Nearly all cases of Lyme disease occur in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast states.

Besides a rash at the site of a tick bite, symptoms to watch out for include joint pain that migrates from one joint to another, fever, chills, fatigue and body aches.

To better understand how Lyme disease spreads, the National Science Foundation recently awarded a four-year, $2.5 million grant to scientists at five U.S. universities.

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