Treatment for Lyme disease remains controversial

October 3, 2011 4:51:20 PM PDT
Lyme disease is an infection spread by tick bites. It's curable when it's caught early, but when it's not, that's when the treatment becomes controversial.

Sharon Abercia runs Au Bon Pain, her family's restaurant. It's a long way from her life when Lyme disease made her an invalid.

"I was bedridden for almost a year," she said.

It started with flu-like symptoms.

"The next morning, I got up and I had bells palsy all on the right side of my body. I went to the doctor and they said maybe I had a stroke, and I met someone who asked me if I had ever been bit by a tick," Abercia said.

She had. Lyme infection is transmitted by the deer tick. In Texas, the Lone Star tick can cause Lyme-like symptoms.

Lyme causes a red bull's eye-like rash and symptoms of fatigue, chills, fever, headache, and muscle and joint aches.

Untreated, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says, Lyme can cause facial palsy, spinal cord inflammation, joint pain, and heart palpitations. There is no doubt Lyme disease can be devastating. It's the treatment that has become controversial.

It's the topic of documentaries like "Under Our Skin," and the question, if patients who don't get better on the first round of antibiotics, should they keep taking them?

Abercia took IV antibiotics for three years.

"I'm here to tell you that if he hadn't given me that, Christi, I'd probably be dead or I'd be in a wheelchair for sure," she said.

"Longer courses of antibiotics have been studied, they don't help," said Dr. Charles Ericsson, head of UTHealth Infectious Diseases department.

Today, most doctors only give antibiotics for a few weeks and only if you test positive. At UT Houston medical school, researchers developed a blood test to accurately diagnose Lyme within hours.

"Today there are 13 companies that use this protein that we found for the diagnosis of Lyme disease," said Dr. Steven Norris, who developed a Lyme disease test.

If the blood test is negative...

"Something else is probably going on and that's what you need to diagnose," Dr. Ericsson said.

But doctors and patients agree on one thing: if you get a tick bite with a bulls eye rash...

"Get on six weeks of IV treatment and then you'll knock it out and you'll never have to worry," Abercia said.

The CDC reports that 10 to 20 percent of Lyme disease patients continue to have symptoms years later.

The local chapter of the Texas Lyme Disease Association meets 3-5pm the second Saturday of each month at the Kindred Hospital cafeteria, 11297 Fallbrook. Call 281-517-1000 or visit www.txlda.org for more information.


Load Comments