Lyme Disease Update
Can antibiotics catch Lyme disease before it develops?
Do antibiotics alleviate the lingering symptoms after the infection is cured?
Two recent studies published in The New England Journal of Medicine shed light on these two controversial questions.
In the first study, conducted in Westchester County, New York, an area with high rates of Lyme disease, researchers gave a single dose of either an antibiotic or a placebo to patients who were bitten by deer ticks in the previous 72 hours.
The researchers found the antibiotic doxycycline prevented the disease form developing. However, only 3.2% of the untreated patients developed the characteristic bull's eye rash around the tick bite.
This suggests the risk of Lyme disease is low even in Westchester County. The study also found the infection was more likely to develop from bites by ticks in the nymph stage, and if the tick was attached for 72 hours or more.
This study suggests preventive treatment is only worthwhile in areas with a particularly high incidence of the disease or if you are bitten by a nymphal deer tick that has been attached for three days or more. You should save the tick in a jar of alcohol so it may be identified to help you and your physician make that decision.
In the second study, researchers investigated whether prolonged treatment with antibiotics reduces the fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and mood or memory disturbances that some people experience even after the infection has cleared.
But the study was discontinued early when preliminary results showed prolonged antibiotic treatment was no more effective than a placebo at improving the persistent symptoms.
If you are experiencing post-Lyme disease symptoms, long-term use of antibiotics is unlikely to help. But there is hope your condition will improve — the study found symptoms improved in 36% of the untreated patients.
September 2001 Update