A big step forward for Lyme-diagnosis advocates occurred last Thursday in Richmond as Virginia became the first state in the country to require its health-care providers disclose the limitations of Lyme disease testing to patients.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed into law on March 14 the Lyme Disease Testing Information Disclosure Act of 2013, which requires physicians and health-care providers give patients tested for Lyme disease written disclosure stating that current laboratory testing can produce false negatives, especially in the disease’s early stages.
“History was made with the signing of this bill,” said National Capital Lyme Disease Association executive director Monte Skall in a prepared statement this week. “This Lyme legislation will have a direct impact on the diagnosis and early treatment of this debilitating disease.”
Patients, Skall said, “must be officially informed that a negative test result does not necessarily mean they do not have Lyme disease . . . Education is the best defense against Lyme disease, so this new law, in effect, educates both patients and doctors about the potentially critical limitations of current tests for early Lyme disease.”
Indeed, according to news sources, 71 percent of tested patients see a negative result – but the most widely used test (known as “ELISA”) is only accurate about two-thirds of the time.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Lyme disease is the sixth fastest-growing disease in the nation.
State Sen. Dick Black (13th), who introduced the bill along with Del. Barbara Comstock (34th), said: “The long-term suffering caused by this disease can usually be avoided with early diagnosis and treatment.” Skall also said that, if caught early – that is, within a few months of infection – the disease is considered curable with a 30-day course of antibiotics.
Tick-borne Lyme disease has reached epidemic levels in many Virginia counties. Early symptoms may include headache, stiff neck, fever, muscle aches and fatigue. If left untreated, Lyme becomes chronic with serious, debilitating complications, including joint pain/swelling, heart disease and neurological problems such as Bell’s palsy, dizziness, irritability, cognitive dysfunction, muscle weakness and neuropathy.