Mary Beth Pfeiffer, an investigative journalist, is the author of “Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change.” She is an honorary chairperson of the Global Lyme Alliance gala in Greenwich May 12.
Ticks love the weather these days. The world is a friendlier, more hospitable place for a mama tick and her 2,000 thirsty babies.
In Connecticut, and in growing areas of the United States, Europe and Canada, these blood-sucking arachnids by the billion are enjoying earlier springs and longer seasons.
Perched on a bit of brush, legs outstretched, those patiently waiting ticks carry diseases — into our yards, to the edges of our children’s ball fields, to the nature trail and along the dog walk.
The chief culprit is Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that can cause swollen joints, fatigue, meningitis and neurological problems — and was found in a third of ticks turned into a Connecticut laboratory in 2015. But they carry other pathogens too, such as malaria-like Babesia, that can intensify Lyme symptoms, and sometimes-deadly Powassan virus, which infected a five-month-old Griswold boy in 2016.
Migrating birds have carried ticks for thousands of years. But in the past, when they dropped them in Canada, for example, they did not survive. Today they do. They are crossing seas and climbing latitudes — in Scandinavia, Russia, China, and the United Kingdom.
All if this wouldn’t be so bad if ticks could be controlled or if we had a vaccine against their diseases.
It wouldn’t be so bad if American medicine and government had long ago spent the money and found answers, as it did with AIDS.
Instead, a kind of not-to-worry dogma has developed on the management of Lyme disease. It goes like this: The disease can easily be prevented after a bite. It is easy to diagnose. Short-course antibiotics cure.
“The bigger epidemic,” a research physician pronounced in 2001, “is Lyme anxiety.”
This orthodoxy, which is often repeated in American and European medical journals, has framed Lyme disease, simplistically, as a straightforward disease in which a test or telltale rash makes the diagnosis and a bottle of pills cures. That model works for some.
But it has also harmed many by letting infections fester until a notoriously poor test turns positive — one that cannot distinguish between past and current infection — and by failing to treat the disease quickly or thoroughly enough.
For years, science has raised questions about the basic truisms of Lyme disease, in particular on the only approved diagnostic, which is actually two sequential tests.
Consider the conclusion of a 2016 European study that reviewed 78 test studies: “The data in this review do not provide sufficient evidence to make inferences about the value of the tests for clinical practice.” Translation: We can’t say they work on patients.
Moreover, some 20 published papers since 2012 have demonstrated the failure of front-line antibiotics like doxycycline to kill the Lyme pathogen…
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