VALHALLA - A Westchester doctor and international Lyme disease expert is rejecting as "absurd" and "misleading" accusations that his work was influenced by drug companies or other conflicts of interest.
Dr. Gary Wormser, director of the Westchester Medical Center's infectious disease department, came under fire in recent days after Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal alleged that the panel he led in 2006 to author guidelines on treating Lyme disease had ties to drug and testing supply companies.
Blumenthal last week also alleged that the 14-member panel had a bias against what some patient-advocates call chronic Lyme disease.
"There's no potential financial gain for generic drugs that are recommended for short courses. It's inconceivable that anyone would think so. To me it seems disingenuous to make these allegations when they are so absurd," Wormser said.
The Infectious Disease Society of America, which puts out the recommendations for physicians, said they agreed to an independent review of those guidelines to end Blumenthal's two-year investigation last Thursday.
While Blumenthal declined to provide details on those conflicts of interest, he said yesterday that the settlement will result in a "profoundly significant new process" for dealing with doctors' speaking fees, patent interests and research grants as they are making public health recommendations.
"There will be a complete reassessment of the October 2006 guidelines," Blumenthal said.
The announcement that the guidelines would be overhauled comes just as the weather gets warmer, more people are outside and the threat of the tick-borne disease increases. It has also allowed the contentious debate over Lyme disease to creep back into the national spotlight.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bite of an infected deer tick. Untreated, the disease can cause a rash, often called "the bull's eye," and muscle and joint pain; later it can result in arthritis and neurological symptoms.
The disease was first discovered in Lyme, Conn., in 1975, and its treatment is still among the most controversial in the area of infectious diseases.
Two years ago, hundreds of people rallied outside the Westchester Medical Center to decry the the guidelines soon after they were made public.
Over the years, the elusive disease has made numerous headlines and most recently inspired a documentary called "Under Our Skin," which was shown last week at the Tribeca Film Festival.
In the Lower Hudson Valley, the number of Lyme disease cases in the past three years has declined in Westchester and Putnam but has increased in Rockland between 2002 and 2006.
The highest number of Lyme disease cases were in Dutchess County, though the numbers there have decreased. Dutchess had 1,432 cases in 2005 and 930 cases in 2006, according to the state's Health Department. The number of confirmed cases for last year will be available in July.
"After the next few weeks, we'll have a better indication of whether or not it's going to be a hot year for ticks," said Thomas Daniels, a research scientist at the Vector Ecology Lab at the Louis Calder Center in Armonk.
Most physicians treat the disease according to the 2006 guidelines, which call for a single dose of preventative antibiotics for about 21 days. Those guidelines, which Wormser authored, say that prolonged antibiotic treatment "has not proven to be useful."
Patients, advocates and some doctors, however, believe that Lyme disease is a chronic condition for some people, and it needs attention over a longer period of time with antibiotics.
Those who believe in chronic Lyme have praised Blumenthal's investigation because they believe it will allow their arguments and research to be heard, said Diana Blanchard, co-president of Time for Lyme Inc., a Greenwich-based patient advocacy group.
"This settlement gives hope to thousands of patients who have been suffering ... chronic symptoms of the disease. We feel that there will be a chance now to rework these guidelines," Blanchard said.
Although the guidelines are not mandatory and doctors voluntarily follow them, Blanchard says doctors who recognize chronic Lyme disease have been marginalized and patients have often been denied insurance coverage for treatment because it is more expensive.
Since the guidelines came out in October 2006, two more double-blind studies have upheld Wormser's position on chronic Lyme.
"We don't disagree that people are suffering. We just disagree on blaming these chronic symptoms on Lyme," Wormser said.
Even if a new panel of medical experts re-evaluates the controversial guidelines, Wormser believes the recommendations are not likely to change.
Those who are part of the so-called "Lyme movement," however, disagree.
"I have complete hope that they will find fault with the current guidelines and patients will begin to get the help they deserve," said Pat Smith, president of the Lyme Disease Association, a national nonprofit organization for chronic Lyme patients.
But Wormser contends that Blumenthal acted politically.
"By launching this investigation against a respected medical society, the attorney general sought to politicize science and substitute his judgement for that of medical professionals," Wormser said.
-------------------- Note: I'm NOT a medical professional. The information I share is from my own personal research and experience. Please do not construe anything I share as medical advice, which should only be obtained from a licensed medical practitioner. Posts: 4881 | From Middlesex County, NJ | Registered: Jul 2006
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Someone should check out every grant he's gotten, who wrote it and who owns whoever wrote it. Recently a major study on lung cancer was found to be funded by an organization that was essentially a front for tobacco corporations.
And besides, there's ego. "I say it is so. And if I say it is so, and I get articles in the prestigious NEJM every year, then I say it is so, and I say it is so, and that's that."
Posts: 2276 | From united states | Registered: Jun 2004
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Attorney General didn't alude, allege, or even imply. He stated, unequivocally (Unlike the ELISA), that the IDSA violated the law. Period. The word allege, if looked up in the dictionary means that one has made a statement "without proof." -- AG has proof. They're just fortunate he's giving them the opportunity to do the right thing and not hauling their asses into court. He knows we'll take care of that on our own later on.
Oh and AG Blumenthal did check into the grants and connections of Wormser. In-fact, I'm certain he's one of the "Won't mention names" that the AG was talking about.
The article: It stayed a bit too conventional in listing statistics, but it's really all they've got. I think it should have been mentioned -- as it often is -- that the numbers reported could be skewed and likely are much higher than reported. It was fair and balanced mostly, and made Gary look foolish by focusing on him so extensively. It was almost cartoonish.
Additionally, Brian Fallon's study didn't "support" or uphold Gary's position.
Additionally, if we're not blaming the symptoms on Lyme Disease, then what caused them? Post-Lyme syndrome sure sounds like "Lyme" is to blame. Whether Lyme is persistent or not, it "IS" Lyme which is to blame for the ongoing suffering of patients, which he minimized. Let's assume for all argument sake, that Chronic Lyme Disease doesn't exist, but Post-Lyme does exist.
Even if Post-Lyme is the problem, a **** load of research should be occuring to find out why, because it's obviously pretty significant. So why suppress funding to study that too? Oh, I see -- it's convenient to compartmentalize the argument. That's cute, you know?
The fact is, Lyme Disease is responsible for the suffering, no matter which way you spin it, and finding answers is critical.
-------------------- I am not a physician, so do your own research to confirm any ideas given and then speak with a health care provider you trust.
E-mail: email@example.com Posts: 4155 | From Western Massachusetts | Registered: Dec 2004
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