Lyme Disease for Life?

For some, the tick-borne illness spells long-term symptoms.

ByABC News
August 27, 2007, 6:46 PM

Aug. 28, 2007 — -- Aching, inflamed joints. Memory loss. Mood changes.

For an estimated 20,000 Americans each year, the symptoms above culminate in a diagnosis of Lyme disease -- an inflammatory bacterial illness transmitted by the bite of a deer tick.

Fortunately for the vast majority of Lyme disease sufferers, two to four weeks worth of antibiotic therapy is enough to spur a total recovery from the illness.

But a very small number of patients report a much more serious struggle with the illness.

Brooke Landau, a traffic reporter for the ABC News affiliate KGTV in San Diego, was one of these patients.

"I literally went to bed fine one night and woke up unable to move from the waist down and the neck up and had no idea why," she told ABC's "Good Morning America."

By the time Landau was diagnosed, she said the disease had taken a toll on her hearing, her eyesight -- and it had infected nearly every organ in her body.

When conventional treatments didn't work, her condition led her to an experimental therapy, one not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The treatment involved pumping high doses of antibiotics directly into her heart, 24 hours a day for two months. She also underwent 30 days of treatment in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.

For Landau, the treatment may have worked; she recently received her first negative test results for the bacteria in a decade.

But the very existence of such unapproved treatments for the disease has opened an ideological gulf when it comes to treating patients who, unlike Landau, went through conventional therapy for Lyme disease, only to report that they still suffer its effects years afterward.

On one side are physicians and other practitioners who support approaches including extended courses of antibiotics.

And on the other are the majority of Lyme disease experts, who tend to discredit the long-term continuation of the disease after a normal course of therapy. Dr. John Halperin, chair of the Department of Neurosciences at Overlook Hospital in Summit, N.J., is one such expert.