It can leave victims more disabled than a heart attack. Some doctors say there is an under-recognized rise in the cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. If caught early, the disease is treatable, but in many cases, patients don't get the characteristic rash at the site of a bite. Now patients and doctors are speaking up about a disease that some are calling the next pandemic.
Ten years ago, Julie Hutchingson came down with a mysterious set of symptoms.
"Depression, severe fatigue, insomnia, series of vertigo, unexplained tendonitis that would not heal, floaters in my eyes," Julie Hutchingson told Ivanhoe.
The busy mom went from doctor to doctor, who suggested it could be over 10 different conditions.
"A couple of doctors mentioned HIV, possibly AIDS," Hutchingson recalled.
After seven years, she finally got a definitive diagnosis -- Lyme disease. The CDC reports about 20,000 cases of Lyme disease have occurred in the U.S. in recent years but says actual numbers could be up to 10-times that amount.
What is the root of the underreporting? Some doctors say it lies in the blood test.
"The CDC recognizes three strains right now, but there might be 300 strains," Michael Cichon, M.D., Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, said.
Doctors also disagree on treatment. Doctor Cichon uses IV antibiotic therapy for four months or longer on some of his patients. The infectious diseases society of America says the long-term treatment carries risks like antibiotic resistance and infection and recommends a shorter course of less than two months -- based on three NIH studies.
"And all three studies indicated that prolonging antibiotic treatment after 60 days does not seem to have any further effect," David Balkwill, Ph.D., professor of microbiology at
UCF College of Medicine, Orlando, FL, said.
"The Infectious Diseases Society needs to stop their guidelines. Make them just recommendations," Dr. Cichon added.
One thing most agree on…
"Change needs to happen," Hutchingson exclaimed.
Julie underwent long-term antibiotic therapy. She hopes to save others from the unanswered questions that troubled her for years.
To better understand how Lyme disease spreads, the national science foundation recently awarded a four-year, 2.5 million dollar grant to scientists at five U.S. universities. Besides a rash at the site of a tick bite, symptoms to watch out for include joint pain that migrates from one joint to another, fever, chills, fatigue and body aches.