Chronic Lyme disease treatments put patients at risk for serious harm, says CDC

"Chronic Lyme disease" is often used by some providers as a catchall diagnosis for constitutional, musculoskeletal and neuropsychiatric symptoms. However, this diagnosis can often be faulty and result in the use of treatments with little proven efficacy that may cause serious patient harm, according to Friday's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the CDC.

Here are three key takeaways from the report.

1. While Lyme disease is a well-known condition caused by infection with the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, chronic Lyme disease is a term sometimes used to diagnose individuals suffering from debilitating symptoms commonly associated with Lyme disease like fatigue, joint pain and neurologic disorders. A diagnosis of chronic Lyme disease "might be based solely on clinical judgment and without laboratory evidence of B. burgdorferi infection," according to the report.

2. Some providers, including specialists who purport to be "Lyme literate" often prescribe unproven treatments to chronic Lyme disease patients. Such treatments include extended courses of antibiotics — which can last years — intravenous infusions of hydrogen peroxide, immunoglobulin therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, electromagnetic frequency treatments, garlic supplements, colloidal silver and stem cell transplants.

3. Clinicians and state health departments sporadically contact the CDC with reports of patients who've contracted serious bacterial infections while undergoing treatment for chronic Lyme disease. Friday's report relays five case studies of such incidents:

  • After receiving intravenous antibiotic treatment for three weeks, a female patient in her late 30s being treated as a chronic Lyme disease patient for joint pain and fatigue died from septic shock.
  • An adolescent female patient had to be hospitalized for three weeks for septic shock. The girl developed the condition after the discontinuation of treatment with intravenous and oral antibiotics after five months.
  • One female patient in her 40s contracted Pseudomonas aeruginosa after receiving treatment with both oral and intravenous antibiotics.
  • After being ineffectively treated for weakness, swelling, and tingling in her extremities with herbs and homeopathic remedies, a woman in her 50s began a 7-month course of intravenous and oral antibiotics. Upon discontinuation of the treatment, the woman contracted Clostridium difficile.
  • A female patient more than 60 years old who received intravenous immunoglobulin therapy every three weeks for more than 10 years eventually contracted methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus. After being treated for the infection, the patient resumed the immunoglobulin therapy and subsequently experienced another S. aureus infection.

To read the CDC's full report, click here

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