Lyme disease wars

Warm weather is finally here and so begins the season for summer barbeques, long days on the beach, warm evening strolls — and Lyme disease. When it comes to the seasonal tick-borne disease first identified in Lyme, Connecticut, in the mid-1970s, Massachusetts remains one of the most heavily impacted states. An estimated 15,000 to 30,000 people will develop Lyme disease in Massachusetts this year.

The disease can cause a raft of symptoms, including flu-like feelings and fatigue and, if untreated, everything from arthritis symptoms to cardiac problems. But the battle to identify and treat Lyme has turned into an all-out war among those who deal with the disease, pitting many of the leading nation’s Lyme researchers against a renegade group of vocal patients — joined by some doctors — who claim the disease is more prevalent than official numbers suggest and that conventional treatment is far too limited. The Globe’s Beth Daley gave a thorough overview of the Lyme disease wars yesterday, the first in an occasional series the paper has planned on the illness.

Most physicians treating the disease — including Mass. General Hospital’s Allen Steere, the country’s foremost Lyme researcher and the man who first identified its cause nearly 40 years ago — believe it can be diagnosed with a blood test and that a one-month course of antibiotics almost always rids the body of the Lyme infection. Steere and others say that Lyme has become a catchall diagnosis for what Daley describes as “vague and wide-ranging health complaints” — some of which are better dealt with by psychiatrists than rheumatologists.

Doctors on the other side have gone so far as to found a rebel organization, the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society, to combat the prevailing views put forward by Steere and the long-established Infectious Disease Society of America.  The breakaway group says patients often need chronic antibiotic treatment — for a year or longer. As CommonWealth reported earlier this year, those fighting against the standard treatment regimen for Lyme have taken the battle to the state Legislature, where they pushed for creation of a Lyme disease commission.  A bill is now pending that would mandate insurance coverage of long-term antibiotic treatment for Lyme.  

While lawmakers have the power to direct insurers to cover extended Lyme treatment, that’s not the same as answering the question of whether there is actually a medical rationale for longer-term treatment. Some Lyme organizations are taking up this challenge. Daley writes that the Connecticut-based Lyme Research Alliance, for example, has raised $6 million over the last decade and is the primary funder of a new research center on Lyme and other tick-borne diseases at Columbia University Medical Center.

“It’s a very confusing illness for physicians and patients,’’ Dr. Laurel Miller, infectious disease medical director of Cape Cod Healthcare, which runs Cape Cod and Falmouth hospitals, told the Globe.

                                                                                                                                                        –MICHAEL JONAS

BEACON HILL

On Keller@Large, state Auditor Suzanne Bump defends her office’s report on welfare abuse that claims nearly 1,200 dead people got benefits. The Beat the Press panel says Bump’s report validates the constant drumbeat of the Boston Herald’s reporting on the issue.

GAMBLING

A bid to build a slots parlor in Worcester appears dead, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

In the American Spectator, Daniel Flynn says the owner of the Washington Redskins football team and its fans should be more embarrassed over them being associated with the city than its nickname.

The GOP is in danger of going overboard with in its zeal for for various investigations into overreach by Obama administration officials.

What Chris Christie gets out of making nice with Barack Obama.

Wall Street may punish Illinois for failing to fix a $96.8 billion pension shortfall by exacting higher borrowing costs.

ELECTIONS

Herald columnist Kimberly Atkins believes Ed Markey’s biggest Senate debate hurdle will be Ed Markey talking out loud. State Sen. Karen Spilka courts the union vote in the race to fill a seat Markey still occupies.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Small foundations with assets less than $50 million — which constitute 98 percent of grantmakers but just 30 percent of foundation wealth — grew their assets by 10 percent last year, according to a new study.

Next City takes a look at the original micro-apartment — New York’s thousands of illegal single-room occupancy units.

EDUCATION

Adrian Walker calls out “Friends of Roxbury Community College” organizer Sadiki Kambon as a racist Roxbury rabble-rouser — and the worst friend Roxbury Community College has.

HEALTH CARE

The Berkshire Eagle opines about why marijuana shouldn’t be ingested by children and the need for “continuing education” about pot.

TRANSPORTATION

The Brockton Enterprise takes a look at the varied enforcement of local police departments of the laws against texting while driving and finds very stark differences from community to community.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

State solar power subsidies have shrunk as the solar market has expanded. Now the state is preparing to help out by taking several administrative steps to increase the size of the subsidies, the Lowell Sun reports.

State environmental officials say they plan to allow three homeowners to rebuild the Plum Island homes they lost to a storm, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Colorado creates a climate change czar position, the Denver Post reports.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The Globe looks at the daunting task of selecting a jury for the Whitey Bulger trial, which begins tomorrow. Peter Gelzinis notes that Bulger’s Southie has all but disappeared, and compares Whitey to “Rip Van Winkle in hell.”

Boston police shot and killed a 37-year-man in Dorchester after he allegedly shot at officers outside a party early Sunday morning.

Through the first five months of the year, Brockton is on pace for an increase in murders, rapes. and robberies over last year, according to data police compiled for the Enterprise.

Photos of the final walk of a Plymouth police dog being saluted by members of the department on his way to be euthanized because of a terminal illness went viral and drew sympathy for the department from around the world.