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Saturday, September 29th 2012

Next Great Debate Issue: Autism & Vaccines

If the above poorly focused image of a Romney/Ryan campaign mailer from Virginia is confusing you then join the club. But it appears the mailer is real and as Mother Jones points out,

[I]t turns out that Romney has, over the last few months, actually made Lyme disease—the bacterial disease transmitted to humans from deer ticks—part of his pitch to suburban Virginia voters.

In a letter to Virginia Represenatives Smith and Wolf from August, Romney’s campaign chastised the Obama administration for not doing enough in the fight against Lyme disease and says,

I know that Lyme disease is a problem.

[...]

More needs to be done. As president, I will work to ensure that more attention is focused on this important issue…We need to ensure that all scientific viewpoints concerning this illness can be heard.

It isn’t that this is a bizarre niche campaign issue that this is concerning. It is that last quoted sentence above and the contents of the campaign mailer which should raise some eyebrows. You see the issue of chronic Lyme disease is at a surprising cross roads between medical science and politics. Lyme disease itself is an obvious clinical entity with a well established etiology. Chronic Lyme disease on the other hand is a poorly defined condition consisting often of vague, chronic symptoms, described by a review in the New England Journal of Medicine as a term used by

a small number of practitioners (often self-designated as “Lyme-literate physicians”) to describe patients whom they believe have persistent B. burgdorferi infection, a condition they suggest requires long-term antibiotic treatment and may even be incurable.

Although chronic Lyme disease clearly encompasses post–Lyme disease syndrome, it also includes a broad array of illnesses or
symptom complexes for which there is no reproducible or convincing scientific evidence of any relationship to B. burgdorferi infection.

It may indeed be that these symptoms are sequalea of the previous infection but it remains that there is strong evidence against continued treatment for infection in randomized studies here and here. Despite that there continues great argument that the medical community is ignoring or outright suppressing evidence for chronic Lyme disease and for the long term use of antibiotics in such cases. The proponents of such a view have demonstrated considerable political clout, especially in Virginia,

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell assembled a governor’s task force on Lyme disease. He appointed Michael Farris as its chair. Ferris is a lawyer and the chancellor of Patrick Henry College, aka God’s Harvard, whose motto is “For Christ and for Liberty” and whose “Statement of Faith” holds that the “Bible in its entirety” is “inerrant.”. The school isn’t known for its biology department.

You can read the full report from the task force here, but Laura Helmuth in the above Slate article quotes it, concerning chronic Lyme disease,

“There is no scientific basis for concluding that 30 days or less of antibiotics is sufficient treatment for every case of Lyme disease.”

The NIH and CDC disagree. Pandering to those who would agree with the Virginia task force is a low play from the Romney-Ryan campaign.

I imagine next they’ll have Jenny McCarthy on the campaign trail with them, making a further political issue of the unfounded vaccine-Autism link.

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