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Harvard Medical School
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General Medical Questions
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Question : Can Lyme disease be cured?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Robert H. Shmerling, M.D. is associate physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. He has been a practicing rheumatologist for over 20 years at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He is an active teacher in the Internal Medicine Residency Program, serving as the Robinson Firm Chief. He is also a teacher in the Rheumatology Fellowship Program.

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December 05, 2013
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Yes, an infection with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease can be cured. In fact, nearly everyone with the condition improves quickly after starting antibiotics and is cured within a few weeks. 

But there are some important things to note about the results of Lyme disease treatment:

  • It is possible to have Lyme disease more than once.
  • Some people with Lyme disease need more than one course of treatment before they are cured.
  • Occasionally, a person with Lyme disease can be cured of the infection but then develop a “reactive arthritis.” This is a condition in which the bacterial infection triggers an immune attack on the joints. The tendency to develop this complication seems to be partly genetic.
  • Some people experience symptoms (such as fatigue or difficulty concentrating) after the infection is treated. This may happen despite the fact that there is no evidence that the bacteria is still in the body. No one knows why this happens.

The concept of “Chronic Lyme Disease” is controversial. This describes a chronic infection with Lyme disease bacteria that requires long-term and sometimes continuous antibiotic treatment. Most Lyme disease experts believe this happens very rarely (or never). But some doctors diagnose Chronic Lyme Disease frequently and prescribe intravenous antibiotics long term.

There are ongoing studies to identify new treatments for Lyme disease, and to understand the cause of symptoms that follow treatment. Until these studies reveal more, my advice is to take a standard course of antibiotics (rather than long-term treatment) if you are diagnosed with Lyme disease.

Even better, avoid the disease in the first place by avoiding exposure to ticks, using repellants or pesticides, and removing ticks before they attach. Preventive treatment with antibiotics may be recommended for people who find an engorged tick attached to their skin, especially in places where Lyme disease is common (such as coastal New England and the upper Midwest).

 

 

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