MADISON, Wis. – Lawmakers are targeting Lyme disease with a new bill designed to set out how doctors should diagnose and treat the tick-borne illness.
Wisconsin is one of 14 states in the country facing a significant number of Lyme cases, with nearly 3,000 estimated cases in the state in 2014. The disease causes fever, fatigue and other debilitating symptoms, and is transmitted by deer ticks.
Those who’ve had experience with the disease, including the lawmakers behind the bill, say it nearly always creates a medical nightmare because the science on when to diagnose and how to treat Lyme disease is unclear.
A bill proposed by Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, and Rep. Dave Craig, R-Big Bend, would say the state’s Medical Examining Board would have to create best practices for both the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease.
“What we’re asking for is that medical professionals come together as a board and put up some parameters and make an understanding of what health care professionals can and should be doing,” Sargent said.
Rob Tanner of Madison said he’s been dealing with chronic Lyme disease for six years after seeing four Madison doctors, getting a diagnosis in Fond du Lac, and now making two trips a year to New York to see a doctor who specializes in the disease.
“The reality is I never would have even known I had Lyme if I’d had trusted my doctors here or certainly ever been treated with these more cutting edge treatments,” Tanner said.
Tanner believes the problem is in the education of doctors, and lack of agreement on when and how to diagnose Lyme disease. Treatments are also controversial, as some believe extensive treatment with antibiotics can be helpful but others say it isn’t proven.
“Doctors need the capability to be able to do that without being threatened with being sanctioned for treatments that are not officially Infectious Disease Society of America approved,” Tanner said. “There’s a whole political problem along with a testing problem and an education problem and when you combine them all it is not good to be a Lyme patient.”
Craig, who said a close friend and constituent has Lyme disease, said that’s why he believes there should be standards set for what doctors are able to pursue.
“Let’s have an honest conversation about what our constituents are experiencing and then also draw out the fact that the medical examining board should draw out practices for what physicians should be doing in our state and give some clear guidance,” Craig said.
But the Wisconsin Medical Society, which represents the state’s doctors, said the Medical Examining Board’s job is to investigate complaints, not put medical treatment policy in law.
“The society has long advised against establishing medical practices in state statutes or administrative code,” Medical Director Donn Dexter, MD, said. “Doing so ignores the constant progress of science in the practice of medicine and therefore any new law or code provision would quickly become stale.”
Tanner acknowledges the science can be murky.
“We are in a time where a doctor who isn’t really on one side of this debate or another can legitimately look at the science and say it’s not clear,” Tanner said. “But I don’t think science that is not clear is an excuse to stick with doing nothing.”
Craig said the bill could get a hearing in an Assembly committee as soon as next week.