Chapter 30 : Lyme Disease: The Public Dimension

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The story of Lyme disease is instructive because it vividly illustrates both the positive importance and the drawbacks of greater public involvement in the advancement of medical science and health care. On one hand, concerned citizens, rather than medical experts, first highlighted the full significance of Lyme disease. On the other hand, public clamor, has now derailed the introduction of a highly effective vaccine against the infection. Researchers described the organism, isolated from patients' blood and now called , in the . Lobbyists portrayed Lyme disease as a national plague and wielded considerable influence on the research agenda. The principal issues at stake included the question of whether the patients described in the controversial reports were really suffering from Lyme disease, which was being overdiagnosed, and whether they were receiving valid therapies. One might imagine that the development of a recombinant Lyme disease vaccine, and its approval by the FDA in 1998, would have been wholly welcome to the campaigners and would have ended their by now overheated campaigning. According to a program officer for Lyme disease research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the early 1990s, licensing of the vaccine confronted campaigners with the problem of "how to sustain public anxiety, media attention and political clout against the evidence-based reality of a bacterial infection that was antibiotic-responsive, non-fatal, non-communicable, geographically focused and preventable through vaccination.".

Citation: Dixon B. 2009. Lyme Disease: The Public Dimension, p 138-141. In Animalcules. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817442.ch30
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1. Nigrovic, L. E.,, and K. M. Thompson. 2007. The Lyme vaccine: a cautionary tale. Epidemiol. Infect. 135: 1 8.
2. Steere, A. C.,, R. L. Grodzicki,, A. N. Kornblatt,, J. E. Craft,, A. G. Barbour,, W. Burgdorfer,, G. P. Schmid,, E. Johnson,, and S. E. Malawista. 1983. The spirochetal etiology of Lyme disease. N. Engl. J. Med. 308: 733 740.

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