Lyme disease presents challeges for patients and doctors

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(Host) The increasing occurrence of Lyme disease in Vermont is presenting challenges for patients and physicians alike.

Doctor Jeff Wulfman is a family practitioner in Brandon who treats many Lyme disease patients.

Speaking on Vermont Edition today Wulfman said part of the challenge in diagnosing Lyme disease is that symptoms vary widely.

And he says the blood test most often used to screen for the disease is only 50% to 70% accurate.

(Wulfman) “Even the CDC says that ultimately Lyme disease is a clinical diagnosis, which means that you have to listen to the patient, hear their story. Someone who is functioning well and then suddenly their life changed in a dramatic way and has never been the same, even if their blood test happened to be positive we still have to use our clinical judgment to have that diagnosis.”

(Host) Wulfman says for some patients, antibiotics can be effective in treating Lyme disease. But for others, the disease can be debilitating.

Doctor Ralph Budd is a UVM rheumatologist. He studies how Lyme disease affects joints. He says sometimes the bacteria trigger an immune response that is self-perpetuating:

(Budd) ” .. which is to say that even though you give antibiotics, some people can go on to a chronic phase that seems to be independent of the organism and at that time it gets a little bit more tricky to treat.”

(Host) Scientists at UVM are also studying possible genetic predisposition to the illness. Currently there is no vaccine for Lyme disease.

The bacteria that causes Lyme disease is carried by deer ticks. The Vermont Department of Health cautions people to check themselves and their pets for ticks after spending time outside.

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