Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a bill Thursday aimed to give doctors more latitude to treat long-term symptoms of tick-borne illnesses, which advocates lauded as a good first step.
"We have one of the highest rates of Lyme disease in America, per capita, and what we know about Lyme disease is that if not detected early, it is an extraordinarily debilitating disease that can uproot the life of an otherwise very healthy Vermonter," Shumlin said.
The number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease in Vermont grew from 11 in 2002 to 674 in 2013. Shumlin encouraged Vermonters to become educated about the symptoms of Lyme and check themselves regularly for ticks.
The law requires the state Board of Medical Practice to issue a memo saying that it won't censure clinicians for using alternative methods to treat patients with ongoing symptoms of Lyme and other related diseases.
Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are typically treated upon diagnosis with a two- to four-week course of antibiotics, and if caught early, the disease is unlikely to have lasting health effects. However, if it's not detected early, it can be difficult to diagnose and treat.
There is medical controversy over the benefit of using long-term antibiotics to treat persistent symptoms of those illnesses.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines advise against long-term antibiotic treatment. But the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society provides guidelines for the treatment of persistent Lyme that include prolonged antibiotics as an effective treatment.