Good Question: Should Lyme disease tests be improved?

July 25, 2017 06:34 AM

You've no doubt heard Lyme disease is a big concern this year. Some of you are asking if diagnostic tests are catching the illness soon enough.

Many people go years without knowing they've been infected with Lyme disease because current tests don't catch all cases early.

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Patricia Smith, President of the Lyme Disease Association, told website Contagion Live that: "Patients are certainly facing a lot of problems getting diagnosed and getting treated. Those problems stem from the fact that, first of all, even 43 years into Lyme disease, there's still a lot of problems with recognizing Lyme disease. The testing is probably about 50 percent accurate.

Testing has improved over the years but there are still cases that slip by. That's why several researchers in the U.S. are racing to find better diagnostic tests to improve accuracy. The Centers for Disease Control is also aware of the need for improvement and working to find better tests.

In Rochester, at U.R.M.C., they've already been using an improved version. Dr. Geoffrey Weinberg is a specialist of infectious diseases at U.R.M.C.

"We run a test here at URMC that is thought to be more sensitive and specific so it's a better diagnostic tool than the old tests which were a bit confusing on how to interpret them," says Dr. Weinberg.

One viewer also asked about co-infections that can tag along with Lyme disease, like cat scratch fever.  Should we also be testing for that to improve diagnosis and catch cases that might slip by?

A spokesperson for the N.Y.S. Department of Health gave us this statement when we asked that question:

The New York State Department of Health actively monitors the tick population and incidences of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Research on tick-borne disease continues to evolve. Bartonella Infection, also known as Cat Scratch Disease, is primarily caused by scratches of domestic or feral cats, particularly kittens. Cats can harbor infected fleas carrying Bartonella bacteria, which can be transmitted from a cat to a person during a scratch. 

Additional Information:

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), no study in the United States has shown that Bartonella can be transmitted to humans by ticks.
  • There are several NYSDOH Clinical Laboratory Evaluation Program (CLEP) approved labs to test for Bartonella that are available to New York State healthcare providers.  
  • More information is available here

 Dr. Weinberg also told us co-infections in NYS are rare.

"In general we try and test for the thing that's most likely based on symptoms and based on incidents and commonality of the infection for the area rather than shooting off shotgun panels which spend a lot of money and people's blood but don't get us any farther in diagnostics," he said.


Pat Taney

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