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Patients suffering from persistent symptoms they believe to be caused by a past episode of Lyme disease aren’t helped by long courses of antibiotics, according to a new study.

Why it matters:

Of the tens of thousands of Lyme infections worldwide every year, some 4 to 20 percent of people continue to suffer symptoms they attribute to the disease — such as arthritis, neuropsychological disorders, or fatigue — for years. But it’s an unsettled question whether these patients’ symptoms are connected to Lyme disease and what to do about them.


Doctors sometimes prescribe long courses of antibiotics, but the research on the effectiveness of this practice is patchy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies have not shown antibiotics to be effective in treating these long-term symptoms.

The nitty gritty:

Researchers studied over 200 individuals in the Netherlands who had been suffering from symptoms they attributed to Lyme disease for an average of two years. Everyone was given a strong antibiotic for two weeks, and then they were split into groups given either no drugs or given different antibiotics for a subsequent three months. Everyone reported a quality-of-life improvement from the beginning of the trial, but the drugs given after the preliminary antibiotic did not have an additional effect.

“It’s been unknown whether the prolonged treatment with antibiotics would have any benefit over a standard course of antibiotics,” said Dr. Bart Jan Kullberg, the study’s primary investigator and a professor at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands. “And basically what we’ve shown in this trial is that it didn’t.” The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.


But keep in mind:

Outside researchers cautioned that the results from this study might not be generalizable because of how varied the participants were.

“They mixed apples and oranges and bananas together in this study,” said Dr. John Aucott, director of the Lyme Disease Research Center at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. For instance, 10 percent of the people in the study had never been treated for Lyme disease, while others had been suffering symptoms for years. Those two groups might respond differently to antibiotics, but the results were all grouped together in the paper.

What’s next?

Kullberg said it’s still an open question why some patients are cured of Lyme disease and others experience symptoms for years. He is working on prospective studies of patients suffering from Lyme disease to try to answer this question.

The bottom line:

Scientists still don’t know why some people who contract Lyme disease continue to suffer symptoms they think are related to the Lyme disease years after being treated for the original disease. But taking antibiotics for an extended period of time — after taking strong antibiotics for two weeks — doesn’t seem to help those symptoms.

Correction: This story originally misstated the name of the journal in which the study was published. It has been updated. 

  • I have been misdiagnosed for 26 years, I have been on antibiotics since last Sept 2018 I’m now on iv antibiotics since March 2019. 26 years of being misdiagnosed, my pain is unbearable, my cognitive function is so messed up I don’t know if I’m coming or going, muscle spasms, my legs don’t want to work. So what should I do ? How can a person live like this? There is no answers to my questions I have,

  • I have had chronic lyme disease for 5 years. Was diagnosed two years after the EM rash. Took antibiotics for 2 years – didn’t help at all. Still have about 60 symptoms. Has anyone cured this? I’ve considered a vegan diet to “super purify” my body in hopes of curing it. Advanced thanks for any info anyone has on this.

  • This is rubbish. Do you think people would continue to self pay for further treatment if it did nothing? When you have a chronic persistent infection, for which there are good reasons, and the treatment helps but does not cure, then you need to look for the reasons it does not cure and improve the treatment. Not refuse any treatment to people with a serious infection.

    Most of the people in this situation were not diagnosed promptly, some for two years or more. This entrenched infection does not respond to the same treatment that acute cases may.

    If this kind of ignorant analysis is applied to all emerging and spreading infectious diseases, then we are in big trouble.

  • While out hunting this season 2016, I received well over thirty tick bites. Iam seventy three years old and never before encountered so many. Was wondering if the Us Forest Service has stocked these insects to fight off tree killing insects, Ash bore, Pine Beatle, Tent Moths, or Gipsey Moths.
    I did not see any tent moths this year? Just wanting to know if any connection?

  • Long-Term Antibiotic Effects: Not sure of “exactly” how long I went miss-diagnosed, but I can put a first time-line marker by the event when suddenly one year,(2006)- the Red Cross sent me a letter saying “we don’t want your blood any more”! While my blood was being prepared for transfusion, they detected / flagged a positive/indeterminate for HTLV I & II.
    Scary letter; but, when following up with my doctor, and then a blood disease doctor, (they were looking with tunnel vision at one particular suspected issue with my now unworthy blood, >which said nothing about Lyme!
    Nothing was ever confirmed “Positive” on the HTLV”, but that is where it ended. No diagnosis surfaced, Lyme or otherwise(?) Just not positive on the HTLV?
    Obviously, as my symptoms increased, which are all these classic symptoms of acute fatigue, brain fog, joints would swell and make an audible popping sound while trying to straighten my fingers at night while in bed; as I write, (11-15-16) stiff aching neck(right side); fatique still there, but lessens on some days; brain fog still present, but less, and at one point, I could not multiply 5 X 7, where as a carpenter by trade, I routinely executing mixed-number, add / subtract / multiply etc., was dividing fractions in my head; then, it got to the point, I had to write a measurement down on my hand with an ink pen, so when I got back to my work-bench, I would know what the measurement was I just took! I would loose the number, just walking across the room? NOTE: as a carpenter, you may take 3 different measurements, then go back to your saw-horses, and write them down, before starting all the different cuts. I’m saying; I could not keep 1-number in my head while walking back, to make the cut! In the mean-time;
    At least, three(3) different doctors were of no help; Comments: “your geting older” / wear gloves when you do that work / here, give yourself a shot of B-12 once a week! Finally, felt like my nerves were starting to react abnormal, (jump at loud noises / vertigo / vision, etc” not what I was use to living with”!
    So, years later, went back to the blood disease doctor, and gave all the symptoms, and made a point of telling them to check for any & all possible infections! Straight forward; told them if nothing substantial is found, I’m going to a brain specialist, because I’m about to come apart with too many symptoms; and it surely can’t “all” be in my head;
    I think, I am well grounded; my personal perspective, all humans may be a “one off”, at times in there life, but I was acute in too many directions!
    My personal observation concerning Long-Term-Antibiotics: First; let me expose my prejudice: I am totally against using killing chemicals / medicines to heal. Whether it be Biocides in Nature, or in the human body! It may be a naive perspective of mine, which is death + death = death….Not the true path to healing; I am suspect, the die-off, and re-generation of these bacteria from DNA clusters or however(?) But, reality is, these tenacious living organisms have gone cellular; and now obviously, my body is fighting “two fronts”- The “constant pulsing long term of antibiotics” > killing good bacteria in my gut biome<, and the good, not able to rebound, –and then, the die-off of a lot of dead-life, polluting my system, as my organ's are working over-time, creating more stress, trying to clear it from my body.
    Unfortunately for me, I was not diagnosed, or being treated at all, for close to 10 years, when in the last year, this really started coming to a head; and "how desperate", I became!
    I did seek-out, and follow a protocol of Long-Term Antibiotics: Results?
    For "my DNA", it has not been a silver bullet. My symptoms have backed off, but "everything" is still there, and some of my improvements can be just as much credited to a more focused attempt to eat nutrients to boost my immune system, and eating whole foods in general "everyday", to allow my natural system to battle "whatever Bacteria", has invaded my body. I am attempting to increase the good bacteria count in my system through diet.
    No doubt; the big dose of antibiotics "turned the tide, and reduced my symptoms"; I am grateful for the science in medicine, but I can not say, "longer is better"; I did not experience that, and have of a month ago, stopped.

  • The antibiotics do not always work well is because the spirochete is not a true bacteria. Its a mutation between germ and parasite. I have 26 years of experience and I know. Write me if you wish to speak about this problem. A specific drug to kill Lyme has yet to be developed. Rumor has it that the military has one but will not share it.

    • Hello Bob, My wife has the symptoms and has for years. I did a lot of reading a while back and learned a lot. The symptoms of lyme were first noticed before 1900. Lyme has been treated in the US since the 1930’s. There is plenty of actual treatment information and I do not see why you need studies when you have actual treatment data. Antibiotics can take up to a year to start showing improvement. Antibiotics are routinely given for other diseases for long periods so why not for lyme? My email is [email protected]. Best Wishes to all!!

    • Hi Bob,
      I am interested in hearing what you know about the spirochete being a mutation between a germ and parasite. My son has been diagnosed with lyme in June of 2017 and minimally treated with Doxy. He is still having symptoms. I was referred to a mid wife/nurse for further treatment. She put him on Doxy and Azithromycin for now, until the bloodwork comes through. I hear she may use a variety of other antibiotics, and/or herbal supplements to kill the germ. I am not a fan of antibiotics, but my friend said it worked for her and she was close to death when finally diagnosed. Just wanted your opinion on whether to go the natural herbal method or antibiotic route, or both? Thanks so much!

  • My grandson was misdiagnosed and untreated after a negative ELISA test by a Mass General doctor. He has since dropped out of an Ivy League college and lives in my daughter’s basement, an unrecognizable shell of his former outstanding self. If we had only known Lyme tick victims should avoid Mass General like the plague since the hospital protocol denies patients the use of the Western blot and refuses to treat Lyme symptoms . . . .
    The pain of losing him has been unbearable.

    • Dear Linda, Don’t give up. Research and find the most powerful anti-parasite drug you can find. It may not be in the US. Albendazole (sp) is one, but the US drug companies have criminally raised the price astronomically. Search overseas. Bob — [email protected]

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