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Lyme disease treatment alternative

Published (2/18/2010)
By Lauren Radomski
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The Rev. Art Stenberg, who contracted Lyme disease, testifies Feb. 17 before the House Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee in support of a bill that would limit the Board of Medical Practice from bringing a disciplinary action against a physician for prescribing, administering or dispensing long-term antibiotic therapy for chronic Lyme disease. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)The Rev. Art Stenberg was bitten by a tick in Brainerd in 1983, but wasn’t officially diagnosed with Lyme disease until he visited a New York physician in the early 1990s.

“This disease has cost us our life’s savings and taken an even worse toll on (the) time and energy that I’ve been able to spend with my family,” Stenberg said. “They lost their energetic and vibrant father a long time ago.”

Yet the medical community has not reached a consensus on the effectiveness of a long-term antibiotic treatment. The approach has been successful for some patients, but deadly for others, prompting many Minnesota physicians to avoid offering it altogether.

Sponsored by Rep. John Ward (DFL-Brainerd), HF2597 would prohibit the Board of Medical Practice from disciplining a physician solely for administering that form of treatment.

“A patient and his or her doctor should have the right to come up with a treatment plan which will best meet the needs of that individual patient,” Ward told the House Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee Feb. 17. The committee tabled the bill in hopes of Ward and the board reaching a compromise.

Chronic Lyme disease is associated with symptoms like headaches, vision changes and neurological disorders that persist after typical treatment of Lyme disease is completed. The disease itself is disputed, with some experts attributing symptoms to “post-Lyme syndrome.”

“Scientific studies have not found a long-term benefit to multiple and prolonged use of antibiotics,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield. While isolated success stories are good to hear, they are not sufficient ground to support a therapeutic approach, she said.

“I’m just amazed that our smartest people are unopen to new and novel things and have opinions like that,” said Rep. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka). Rep. Maria Ruud (DFL-Minnetonka) later apologized for what she called Abeler’s “disparaging” comment.

A companion, SF1631, sponsored by Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville), awaits action on the Senate floor.

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