While other diseases tend to grab headlines — Ebola and Zika most recently — one persistent and crippling condition, Lyme disease, continues to infect a reported 300,000 Americans annually, with little fanfare.
More must be done to address this serious health problem, named after the Connecticut town where it was first diagnosed as a separate medical condition some 40 years ago.
Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in the Northern Hemisphere. Yet even after nearly four decades, it is still often misdiagnosed. It’s time for the federal government to devote more people, more time and more funds toward developing a reliable diagnosis.
The telltale signs of infection — sometimes a bull’s-eye rash, fever, fatigue, joint pain — don’t always show up and are sometimes misdiagnosed. Someone with Lyme disease is so often said to have fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease, chronic fatigue syndrome or some other condition that some medical professionals call Lyme “the great imitator.”
Developing a fully accurate test for Lyme is essential. So far, there isn’t one. According to the Mayo Clinic, the test most often used to detect the disease can produce false-positive and false-negative results.
Getting a better test will mean spending more money than currently allocated. According to the Greenwich-based Global Lyme Alliance, the National Institutes of Health spent $24 million on Lyme research last year, whereas West Nile virus got $40 million. Yet Lyme infects 320,000 Americans yearly; West Nile infects 2,000.
A Lyme vaccine was developed nearly 20 years ago, but the manufacturer stopped making it in 2002, in part because of agitation from those opposed to vaccination. Federal action is needed to get a vaccine back on the market.
The Northeast is an epicenter of Lyme disease. It’s ours, and we must press for more federal funds to fight it.