One after another, a joint hearing of the state Senate and House committees on Health Care heard from Vermonters affected by Lyme disease Wednesday.
Much of the medical literature states the disease runs its course in a matter of weeks, but those who spoke describe long-lasting symptoms
"My recovery was incomplete. I went on to develop debilitating neurological Lyme disease. I estimate my lost earnings to be between $200,000 and $250,000," said Ellen Read of St. Albans.
Read says a long-term prescription for antibiotics could have prevented the disease from stealing her career as a registered nurse. But she says she's lucky just to have found doctors willing to treat her so-called chronic Lyme disease. No Vermont doctor has lost their license for breaking with Lyme disease treatment guidelines, but it is a possibility. The bill before legislators-- based on measures passed in neighboring states-- would remove that threat.
"This is an epidemic and the seriousness is not being recognized," said Dr. Richard Horowitz, a Lyme disease expert.
Horowitz has treated more than 11,000 Lyme disease patients at his New York practice, and spoke in favor of the measure. He says tests for Lyme are fatally flawed, catching only about half of cases and missing more than a dozen co-occurring medical conditions.
"Lyme disease, like its cousin syphilis, is the great imitator. The reason doctors are missing it is it can mimic all these other diseases," Horowitz said.
"Clearly this is a problem, I will absolutely acknowledge that this is a problem," said Dr. Harry Chen, the Vermont Health Commissioner.
Chen says the science on Lyme disease isn't settled. He worries the bill legislates treatment protocol, and is concerned that greater antibiotic use could create more super-bugs.
With an explosion of positive tests seen in the dog population, everyone agrees the problem is only likely to balloon.
Rep. George Till-- the only doctor in the Legislature-- skipped Wednesday's hearing out of frustration that an expert who disagreed with the measure was not invited. House Health and Welfare Chairman Rep. Michael Fischer says the doctor from Johns Hopkins University will be given time to testify another day.