Wilton expert talks ticks
Internationally renowned Lyme and tick-borne diseases physician and researcher Dr. Steven Phillips of Wilton will participate in a discussion about ticks and Lyme disease during a Lyme Connection patient conference at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury on Thursday, May 17, from 5 to 9:30 p.m.
At the conference, Phillips said, he will discuss “the broad range of infections carried by ticks, how the presentations can span from asymptomatic to fatal, and how there is considerable debate on how best to diagnose and treat Lyme.”
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Common symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and skin rash. If left untreated, the infection can spread to a person’s joints, heart and nervous system.
While people should be “very, very suspicious of any flu-like illness in the warm weather months,” said Phillips, it’s also important for them to know that Lyme can be contracted in the winter and that “many cases” aren’t associated with an initial rash.
Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), laboratory testing can be helpful “if used correctly and performed with validated methods,” and most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics.
“Many patients go undiagnosed by some standards,” said Phillips, who has been a practicing tick-borne disease physician for 22 years and researcher for 25 years.
“Almost as bad, many treated patients remain ill despite four weeks of antibiotics. The medical community is arguing about how to best care for these patients, despite there being excellent scientific evidence that the infection persists and that further antibiotics can be helpful.”
Phillips said it’s important for people to know there’s “a divided standard of care” when it comes to managing Lyme, which means there are options. For example, he said, “if you’re not all better by the end of one course of antibiotics, or if symptoms recur after, there are further treatment options — some of them including more antibiotics.
“Patients should trust their gut,” he said. “If the information about Lyme they’re receiving from their doctor doesn't make sense, then they should probably find a doctor whose information does make sense,” he said.
Lyme is “the most prevalent tick-borne infection” in the United States, said Phillips, and the number of cases of vector-borne illnesses in general has “skyrocketed.”
“Each year, there are more new cases of Lyme in the U.S. than breast cancer and HIV combined,” he said.
To prevent getting Lyme disease, Phillips said, people should do tick checks daily, know the early signs of Lyme, use insect repellent, and consider using permethrin on their clothing.
“Permethrin is a common insecticide that can be applied to clothing, allowed to let dry and then worn,” said Phillips, noting that it should not be applied to skin. “Hunting stores sell clothes that are treated with it, and there are services where people can send their clothes out to get treated and it lasts for a number of washes.”
When asked why there’s no Lyme preventative shot for humans like there is for dogs, Phillips explained that there once was, but it was “taken off the market after two years.”
“There was a multibillion-dollar class action suit against the manufacturer,” he said. “It was a huge issue and safety issues surround the development of a new vaccine for humans.”
Phillips said he and Dana Parish, a New York-based singer-songwriter and advocate for people suffering with Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, are developing “a new drug to more effectively treat these illnesses” and also writing a book about “how to get through them and come out the other side.”
“The initial in vitro studies on the drug to test its efficacy should start in the summer,” he said, “and the book should come out in spring 2020.”
To learn more about Phillips’s work, visit stevenphillipsmd.com.
Lyme disease information from the CDC: cdc.gov/lyme/index.html.