Lyme disease panel calls for better outreach, treatmentJuly 6, 2011 0 Comments
by Michael Sluss
LEESBURG -- A task force created by Gov. Bob McDonnell's administration is calling for better public education and outreach about Lyme disease and a more open-minded approach by the medical community to diagnosing and treating the tick-borne illness.
The 12-member task force spent more than five hours Thursday hashing out the details of a report that will go to the governor and could lead to legislation and policy changes. The group was asked to submit findings and recommendations on prevention, diagnosis, education and treatment of a disease that is on the rise and generating controversy in Virginia.
"We have to do something to create a proportionate response to the issue," said Michael Farris, the panel's chairman, who called for a greater sense of urgency in dealing with Lyme.
"We don't want people freaking out inappropriately, but a certain amount of freaking out is warranted here," Farris said. His wife and seven of his 10 children have been diagnosed with Lyme disease.
Much of Thursday's discussion in Loudoun County focused on diagnosis and treatment, topics that have provoked debate within the medical community and calls for reform from people suffering from chronic Lyme symptoms.
Most mainstream clinicians are dismissive of chronic Lyme disease and question treatments that involve the long-term use of antibiotics. Some task force members, including a physician, were critical of certain clinical studies showing that long-term antibiotic treatments are no more effective than the short-term treatments.
The panel heard testimony on both sides of the issue during public hearings earlier this year and agreed to call for more scientific research.
The panel also recommended that the Department of Health Professions inform clinicians that they will not be targeted for disciplinary action for any antibiotic treatments prescribed for Lyme patients. The agency does not target doctors now, said Dr. Dianne Reynolds-Cane, the department's director.
"We have not gone after docs for the way they are treating long-term Lyme disease," Reynolds-Cane said.
Farris said that needs to be communicated to doctors who fear losing their licenses for prescribing long-term courses of antibiotics. Farris' wife receives antibiotic treatments for her condition.
"That's all we're asking for is that your current practice be communicated to the physicians of Virginia so they see how it works," said Farris, a home-schooling advocate and former candidate for lieutenant governor.
The task force's report could create a foundation for increasing awareness and improving diagnosis and treatment, said Monte Skall, the executive director of the National Capital Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Association.
"We hope that, through this growing awareness, treatment will be more effective for Lyme patients," Skall said.
Lyme disease is transmitted by deer ticks and has become more prevalent in Virginia in recent years. More than 1,000 cases of the disease were reported in the state last year.
The task force called for greater education of the public and of medical professionals to improve diagnosis. The panel asserted that serological tests alone can't rule out Lyme disease. The panel also noted that many Lyme patients never develop a bull's-eye rash from a tick bite, a symptom of an infection.
The panel's report also will emphasize public education and prevention. The task force called for more funding to enhance the health department's tick-borne diseases program, including better outreach and education for the general public and health care providers about the prevalence and prevention of the disease.
"The status quo isn't acceptable, and we need a broader understanding of what we don't understand," said Dr. Samuel Shor, a Reston physician and member of the task force.
The panel called for a coordinated effort by government agencies to establish prevention practices and manage facilities to reduce exposure to ticks. And the state should consider more aggressive means of reducing deer populations.
Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Resources Matt Cobb, who served on the task force, said McDonnell will review the report before deciding on any policy changes. Farris said the volunteer task force is giving the governor effective recommendations.
"The quality of the work, the expertise brought to the subject matter has been first-class and I believe our work product will have an unparalleled effect," Farris said.