According to the Centers for Disease Control, America’s fastest-growing infectious disease is Lyme. In 2008, there were 29,000 confirmed cases reported, up 5 percent from 2007—and those are just the patients who were properly diagnosed. Lyme, a bacterial infection transmitted by ticks, is notoriously difficult to diagnose, Fran Zell writes for Milwaukee Magazine (July 2010). “Early symptoms may include fever, fatigue, muscle pain, or a circular skin rash, but not everyone gets them. As it progresses, Lyme can affect any organ in the body, resulting in countless symptoms,” Zell reports. Lyme can look like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. In other words, like anything. And testing commonly produces false negatives.
Many people don’t know that there’s a rift in the medical community about how exactly to identify and treat the disease. Some doctors, dubbed “Lyme literate” by their advocates, follow diagnosis protocols that depart dramatically from those recommended by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Locating a Lyme-literate doctor can be tricky, since many don’t advertise their controversial approach, which ultimately involves the long-term use of antibiotics. But for people who receive diagnoses after dealing with symptoms for years, it’s worth the trouble.