A study proved that treating persistent symptoms from Lyme disease with antibiotics for long periods of time is not only ineffective, but it’s also dangerous for patients.

The team of specialists that carried out the cohort was formed by Anneleen Berende, M.D.; Hadewych J.M. Ter Hofstede, M.D., Ph.D.; Fidel J. Vos, M.D., Ph.D.; Henriët van Middendorp, Ph.D.; Michiel L. Vogelaar, M.Sc.; Mirjam Tromp, Ph.D.; Frank H. van den Hoogen, M.D., Ph.D.; A. Rogier T. Donders, Ph.D.; Andrea W.M. Evers, Ph.D.; and Bart Jan Kullberg, M.D., Ph.D.; and the results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine on March 31.

A recent study found that treating persistent symptoms from Lyme disease with antibiotics for long periods of time is actually ineffective and dangerous for patients. Credit: Macleans.ca

The team worked with a group of 280 patients with persistent symptoms attributed to Lyme disease. The study lasted 14 weeks. In the first two weeks, all the participants were given ceftriaxone, their first antibiotic in the experiment. After that, they separated the participants into 3 groups based on the medication they would receive. The first group was on doxycycline and it was formed by 86 individuals. The second, got a combination of clarithromycin and hydroxychloroquine for all the 96 patients. Finally, 98 people were given placebos to be the control group. All the groups were tracked for 12 weeks.

Antibiotics and long-term persistent symptoms of Lyme disease

To measure the effectiveness of the treatments, the specialists used quality of life plus the physical part, both evaluated with the help of questionnaires. The patients’ memory was also tested to validate their answers.

After the first 2 weeks, there was a significant improvement on the patients’ condition. However, the tests for quality of life, and physical and mental performance did not vary much from previous results. In fact, the outcomes of side effects were very similar. During the first 2 weeks, there were 4 serious cases of side effects related to antibiotics, but after 12 weeks of usage, there were no important irregularities among all the patients.

The data led the team to conclude that after a short-term treatment with drugs, there is no benefit of using them to fight the persistent symptoms. Some specialists say that remaining effects of Lyme disease might be caused by a different unknown source and the results of the paper back up the theory.

“These patients are suffering, and we need much more research into this area,” said Gary Wormser, who is a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

The disease is accounted to a bacteria of the Borrelia type carried by ticks. The symptoms include fever, headaches and fatigue. In extreme cases, people have reported losing the ability to move a side of the face, pain in the joints and heart palpitations. However, these are not the only problems. Some people report suffering from fatigue, chronic pain and in some cases, memory loss.

Even though this is the fifth study to find no benefit on using long-term antibiotic treatments for Lyme disease lasting effects, the debate is still ongoing. While some doctors lean on the cohorts’ results to point out that drugs have dangerous side effects, another group says that it’s the best way to treat them and the final outcome is worth the risks.

Source: The New England Journal of Medicine