There have been a number of cases of patients suffering ill-effects after being diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease and being treated for months or even years with antibiotics despite official recommendations. Outpatient intravenous therapy with antibiotics is a huge business in the US and patients are somewhat at the mercy of this largely unregulated industry.
Costs can spiral up to thousands of dollars per week and oftentimes the doctor referring a patient to a clinic for treatment will get some form of compensation from the clinic, casting doubt on the diagnostic method. Caremark Inc are one such example of this, and the company admitted guilt in 1995 to charges of mail fraud for entering into illegal contracts with doctors who referred Medicaid patients to them for intravenous medical supplies. Caremark, along with a physician, were also charged with scheming to over-bill the health insurer Blue Cross/Blue Shield for Lyme disease patients’ antibiotics and medical paraphernalia.
Numerous patients have been (and continue to be) given treatment using one or more Lyme disease antibiotic contrary to official guidelines. The CDC detailed twenty-five cases of adverse effects (biliary complications) amongst patients receiving antibiotics for suspected late stage Lyme disease, although most of the patients had little evidence of the disease. These patients had all been treated with intravenous ceftriaxone for an average of four weeks and twelve patients went on to develop gallstones as ceftriaxone can form precipitates with bile salts and block the bile duct. Cholecystectomy was necessary for the patients to resolve blockage of the bile duct. Twenty-two of the patients suffered from infections of the blood related to the long-term use of a catheter for intravenous antibiotic therapy. In 2000 a woman died from such an infection after having an IV-line in place for over two years for treatment of unsubstantiated chronic Lyme disease, highlighting problems with Lyme disease quackery.
Herxing and Hoaxing
Many vulnerable patients diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease and treated with a variety of antibiotic regimes describe serious complications and adverse effects of treatment including gallstone development, acute high fever, anaemia, arrhythmia (heart disturbances), neurological problems, low white blood cell count, and myalgia. Oftentimes the patient is simply switched to another antibiotic or made to feel that such serious symptoms are part of the ‘herxing’ reaction, a process which some Lyme disease sufferers erroneously regard as necessary for cure to occur. Reading Lyme disease forum posts and personal accounts of the disease and treatment are unsettling as they often contradict information available from clinical trials and studies and outline extremely dangerous and desperate practices involved in the acquisition of medications.
Using antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin, a very powerful drug, opens a patient up to the risk of acute side-effects such as psychosis or other neuropsychiatric complications. Patients are then in an even more vulnerable position and may not be able to adequately control their treatment process. In creating a support group amongst other long-term antibiotic users it is then difficult, perhaps, to extract oneself from such a group and symptoms may persist regardless of whether an infection has successfully been treated. The answer in such cases is not more antibiotics but rather improved appropriate support of patients with chronic illness and symptoms. Some self-confessed ‘antibiotic addicts’ have resorted to using aquarium antibiotics and veterinary drugs when they are unable to acquire medical prescriptions for themselves. Clearly this is extremely dangerous and the use of any Lyme disease antibiotic should be carefully regulated in order to assist patient safety.