Chronic Lying Disease part 2

ByjnKcqCcAABtXL[1]In Treatment wars: Chronic Lying Disease we noted a regrettable tendency of quacks to promote the fictional “chronic Lyme disease”.

Note that there is nothing fictional about the symptoms, but as you’ll see in a moment they are generally either (a) hopelessly generic – “symptoms of life” if you will or (b) caused by something else.

Nor is there anything fictional about Lyme disease. It is real, a tick-borne infection caused by the borrelia burgdorferiW bacterium (in the US) or a close relative (in th Europe). The symptoms are characteristic – erythema migrans, a bull’s-eye rash – and the infection can be confirmed pathologically by blood test.

And indeed there is a real thing called post-Lyme syndrome, or post-borrelia syndrome, or “Lyme arthritis”, which is characterised by fatigue and muscular pains, especially, in patients who have had Lyme disease.

No, the fictional disease is chronic Lyme disease, which is a disease diagnosed by quacks and treated using quack treatments, especially long-term antibiotics (ironically WDDTY also fulminates against antibiotics, but promoting mutually contradictory ideas in the same story has never been a problem for the editors).

Look at the list of symptoms from the October issue:

  • Persistent swollen glands
  • Sore throat
  • Fevers
  • Sore soles of feet
  • Joint pain
  • Joint swelling
  • Unexplained back pain
  • Stiff joints
  • Muscle pain or cramps
  • Facial twitches
  • Confusion, difficulty thinking
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • Tremor
  • Seizures
  • Headaches
  • Light sensitivity
  • Blurred, double vision
  • Ear pain
  • Buzzing, ringing in ears
  • Increased motion sickness
  • Dental pain
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Unexplained weight gain/loss
  • Unexplained menstrual irregularity
  • Loss of libido
  • Heartburn
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Heart murmur
  • Breathlessness
  • Night sweats

This is like a medical version of Countdown with three from the top row, three form the middle and the rest from the bottom. The symptoms seem to fall into three broad classes:

  1. Genuinely serious things for which you should seek competent medical advice, rather than self-diagnosing on the basis of a what a quack rag might say.
  2. Symptoms which are sufficiently generic that virtually everybody will have them at some time.
  3. Symptoms which are probably brought on by reading alarmist health scare stories in WDDTY and the Daily Mail.

The problem here is that WDDTY freely mix reality-based Lyme disease with chronic Lyme, the entirely quack-invented money spinner. They take Lyme disease – which doctors can and do tell you about – and mix in quackery, without making any proper distinction between the two.

The chronic Lyme scam
British readers may well not be familiar with the chronic Lyme scam, though it’s well documented at Science Based Medicine. Put briefly, tests on patients self-diagnosed or quack-diagnosed with chronic Lyme generally show no evidence of borrelia infection, and where infection is present, DNA tests show that the infecting strain is unrelated to the original infection. There is no credible evidence that chronic Lyme disease exists as a condition, and no evidence that long-term antibiotic treatment, the favoured quack regimen, is effective other than as a placebo.

As usual they are jumping on a bandwagon – and in this case a boondoggle too. In the US, quacks faced with disciplinary action for prescribing long-term antibiotics (a treatment not without its risks and side-effects, let’s not forget) for a disease that they are unable to persuade their peers even exists, used political pressure and through the process of “legislative alchemy”, laws in Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Hampshire protect the practice even in the absence of any sound medical evidence for its use.

Needless to say, this is not how science and medicine are supposed to proceed. It’s precisely analogous to a group of bloodletters or laetrile hucksters persuading a State to legislate preventing them being prosecuted.

If it were not for the fact that this is quack motherlode, we’re certain WDDTY would be fulminating against this use of legislation to permit the prescription of drugs which, in the very same issue, they claim are over-prescribed leading to chronic illness and antimicrobial resistance.

The cited authority, Dr. Joseph J. Burrascano Jr, MD, sells an unvalidated test for borrelia (a snip at $595) to “chronic Lyme” patients. Once again, WDDTY are freely mixing sales pitch and editorial. He is a proponent of long-term antibiotics which he claims work even though as WDDTY note “many patients suffered severe reactions to the antibiotics”. So, you have a man with a vested interest in finding borrelia to justify a treatment to which he is ideologically committed, who invents an expensive test that is not peer-validated. Can anyone see the problem with this?

Of course WDDTY can’t give one form of quackery a free pass without invoking others.

The patient featured in their “case study” is, we’re told, cured, thanks to a classical homeopath (probably the perfect match for a non-existent disease)who “diagnosed” that the patient had never properly mourned the death of her mother. Oh, and liver flushes, because no quack can resist selling detox after all. I would say you couldn’t make it up, but evidently you can, as Meike plainly did. WDDTY helpfully print her contact details for the “benefit” of the similarly afflicted.

As an aside, there is discussion of her son Jack becoming ill. He “deteriorated” after the MMR vaccine (hurrah! Antivax! We really are playing bullshit bingo here aren’t we?) and after vomiting and diarrhoea “in reaction” to  a homeopathic remedy, portrayed by Meike as a “healing crisis” lasting three weeks, he was “cured”. There really is literally no outcome that a homeopath will not interpret as validating their hocus pocus.

This is a classic example of a story that appears to have been written by somebody stupid, ill-informed, in the grip of numerous mutually contradictory delusions, and lacking even the most basic critical thinking skills. It is ill-researched, it publishes crank theories as fact, glossing over obvious and massive red flags, and it finishes with an appeal to probably the most ridiculous “cure narrative” imaginable. And of course the familiar bogeyman, MMR, is given another public flogging.

As an example of the credulous and irresponsible approach to medical stories that characterises WDDTY, it is hard to beat.

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