New law designed to help care for Lyme disease patients

A female deer tick (Credit: Dan Gilrein, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County)
A female deer tick (Credit: Dan Gilrein, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County)

Chronic Lyme disease patients are now one step closer to being able to access a wider range of treatments, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month signed a new law protecting physicians who use treatment options outside federal guidelines.

As with any disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had developed guidelines for treating Lyme, but the CDC guidelines have long created dilemmas for doctors who want to help Lyme patients, since rendering treatment outside the guidelines could leave doctors liable for investigations by the New York State Office of Professional Medical Conduct.

“Too often, doctors choose not to pursue the alternative treatment – even if they believe it is best for the patient – fearing an investigation or charges by [the conduct office],” said state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), a sponsor of the bill and co-chair of the Majority Coalition’s Task Force on Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases reads.

The new law, signed Dec. 17, went into effect immediately, and ensures the state would not investigate physicians for solely using “a treatment modality by a licensee that is not universally accepted by the medical profession, including but not limited to, varying modalities used in the treatment of Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases,” the new law reads.

Between 10 and 20 percent of Lyme patients who have been treated according to federal guidelines for Lyme disease will suffer from lingering symptoms of fatigue, pain, or joint and muscle aches.

It is a condition commonly known as “chronic Lyme disease,” according to the CDC, and while alternative treatment options have been known to include long-term use of antibiotics, the agency reported that long term antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease has been associated with serious complications.

“It’s critically important that we take all actions necessary to fight the devastating diseases spread by ticks, and increase the ability of doctors to treat patients suffering from chronic Lyme disease,” Mr. LaValle said. “This law seeks to remedy one of the issues identified in our Task Force report. We will continue to work towards implementing measures to eradicate Lyme and tick-borne diseases.”

The CDC reported an estimated 300,000 new cases of Lyme are expected in the United States each year.

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