SUNY has a long history of medical breakthrough’s related to Lyme disease so we shouldn’t be surprised to see Holly Ahern, associate professor of microbiology at SUNY Adirondack and Lyme disease awareness advocate, making a new breakthrough, and this time using DNA testing.
According to Ahern and other Lyme experts diagnostics for Lyme disease blood tests hover around half. “The rate of false negative is 50 percent,” she says emphatically, “so you have Lyme disease but go undiagnosed.”
The difficulty in diagnosing Lyme disease is a problem long recognized by many doctors, creating controversy between two different camps: One closely follows the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) standards, which were based on early guidelines constructed for epidemiological screening of the disease in larger populations, and the other focuses on International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society’s (ILADS) research, which its doctors believe show Lyme disease is a chronic condition.
“The problem we’re facing in general in diagnostics is there are over 100 strains of borrelia in the United States,” said Dr. Richard Horowitz, author of “Why Can’t I Get Better: Solving the Mystery of Lyme and Chronic Disease” and a leader in Lyme research.
Borrelia is the bacteria transmitted to people when infected ticks bite them, causing Lyme and other diseases. But some of the strains that cause Lyme-like symptoms aren’t detected by standard blood tests,” Horowitz said.
Those suffering from Lyme disease also are frequently suffering from co-infections, he said, further complicating diagnoses.
Better testing being developed by Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), in which DNA is tested to detect the presence and severity of Lyme disease, is expected to be ready in about two years, he said.
“Time will tell, in terms of validation,” he said. “It’s looking promising.”
“This is the first year I can say there’s good news,” Ahern said. “It’s a game-changer, it will allow people who have mysterious symptoms and no diagnosis to know, to rule out Lyme disease or rule in Lyme disease.”
Recurrent symptoms — migratory joint, muscle or nerve pain; fatigue; trouble sleeping; unexplained memory or concentration problems; mood changes — are a telltale sign of Lyme disease, Horowitz said.
“If people have good and bad days, where symptoms come and go without reason … that is very specific to Lyme disease,” he said.
Despite the difficulty in diagnosing the disease, the number of reported occurrences continue to grow.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that Lyme disease is the most commonly reported illness transferred from insects in the United States and the fifth most common nationally notifiable disease, despite being concentrated primarily in the Northeast and upper Midwest.
“People need to realize we’re in a full-blown epidemic,” Horowitz said.
Ahern, the SUNY Adirondack scientist who started focusing on Lyme disease research after her daughter was infected, said the recent mild winter likely will increase tick populations next year, as there will be a bumper crop of acorns and nuts, which in turn increases mice populations, which will boost the tick population.