July 10, 2017
2 min read

Unverified treatments for ‘chronic’ Lyme disease pose risk for serious infections

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Complications from infection acquired during unsubstantiated treatments for chronic Lyme disease — a condition that is diagnosed based on a variety of symptoms and often without laboratory evidence of Borrelia burgdorferi infection — have the potential to be severe and, in some cases, life-threatening.

To illustrate this concept, the CDC released a review in which five cases of infection during treatment for chronic Lyme disease resulted in severe effects or death.

“Clinicians, public health practitioners and patients should be aware that treatments for chronic Lyme disease lack proof of effectiveness and can result in serious complications,” Natalie S. Marzec, MD, from the preventive medicine residency at the University of Colorado, and colleagues wrote. “Systematic investigation into the scope and effects of these complications, including the rate and extent of infections and the pathogens associated with these infections, would be helpful to inform clinical practice and fully characterize the risks associated with treatments [for the condition].”

Treatments associated with the condition, which are condoned by “Lyme literate” physicians, may include month- or year-long courses of antibiotics, IV infusions of hydrogen peroxide, immunoglobin therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, electromagnetic frequency treatments, garlic supplements, colloidal silver and stem cell transplants. These treatments have not demonstrated efficacy beyond a placebo in randomized-controlled studies, especially long courses of antibiotics.

In one instance, a teenage girl was diagnosed with the condition from an alternative medicine clinic after a chronic fatigue syndrome diagnosis. For her treatment of chronic Lyme disease, she had received a 3-month course of rifampin, trimethoprim-sulfamethxazole and doxycycline.

After abnormal liver enzyme test results, she discontinued oral antibiotics. A peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) was inserted, and IV antibiotics were administered for 5 months without improvement. The teenager discontinued the IV use, but the PICC was never removed.

Following a consult with the alternative medicine doctor for fever of 102.9°F, chills and pallor, she was administered IV ceftriaxone. The same day, she was admitted to the hospital with a fever of over 105°F, hypotension and tachycardia. She was diagnosed with an Acinetobacter spp. infection from the PICC line. Once the line was removed, she was hospitalized for several weeks and later discharged.

Other cases include one woman who had died from septic shock caused by infection from a PICC line and one who had died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a condition she was not treated for previously.

“The number of persons who undergo treatments for chronic Lyme disease is unknown, as is the number of complications that result from such treatments,” Marzec and colleagues wrote. “Systematic investigations would be useful to understand the scope and consequences of adverse effects resulting from treatment of persons with a diagnosis of chronic Lyme disease.” — by Katherine Bortz

Disclosure: The researchers provide no relevant financial disclosures.