The Lyme Disease Association’s 19th annual conference takes place in Providence this weekend. The event is expected to draw doctors and researchers from universities across the country, but it also brings up a source of controversy among the medical community.
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria transmitted to humans through the bite of infected deer ticks, also known as black-legged ticks. Early symptoms can include fever, headache, fatigue and, in some cases, a red bulls-eye rash.
For most people, one round of oral antibiotics is usually sufficient for a complete recovery if treatment occurs in the early stages of the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But for a small percentage of people, symptoms can linger.
Treating those long-term symptoms with antibiotics is an approach advocated by some of members of the Lyme Disease Association, but others in the medical community say long-term antibiotic treatment isn’t supported by medical research -- and can be harmful.
“The overwhelming scientific establishment does not believe that Lyme disease is a chronic infection [that] is persistent throughout a person’s life and requires months or years of antibiotics to treat,” said Dr. Fredric Silverblatt, who heads the Lyme clinic at South County Hospital.
Silverblatt said the medical community’s stance on Lyme disease treatment is similar to most scientists’ consensus on climate change.
According to the National Institute of Health, “prolonged antibiotic courses are ineffective and unsafe” for patients with prolonged symptoms. But not everyone agrees.
“There are providers in this state who have people on antibiotics, rotating antibiotics, without any real evidence that the people have Lyme disease, for years,” Silverblatt said. “And you know, I just can’t accept that.”
Silverblatt said he’s concerned some of the discussion at the conference may promote treatments that do patients more harm than good.
Medical researchers from universities around the country will meet in Providence for the conference , which is being jointly provided by Columbia. The conference is also being sponsored in part by IGeneX Labs Inc. that specializes in detecting Lyme disease, Relapsing Fever, and other tick-borne diseases.
Beyond discussion of treatment, researchers will also talk about the prevention of tick borne illnesses and diagnosis.