- A Bloomberg investigation asserts that some doctors are wrongfully diagnosing patients with Lyme disease and prescribing alternative treatments like IV antibiotic infusions and fentanyl patches.
- Following these treatments, some patients have died while other sustained injuries. Some of the doctors who administered the treatments have received malpractice complaints.
- But the lack of regulation for these unproven Lyme disease treatments and those who administer them means doctors can continue to take advantage of desperate chronically ill people.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Doctors who bill themselves as Lyme-disease specialists are severely injuring and killing patients with alternative and scientifically unproven treatments like chest-port IV infusions, fentanyl patches, and blood-thinning injections, according to an investigation.
Bloomberg reporter Lindsay Gellman found that physicians who bill themselves as “Lyme-literate medical doctors,” or LLMDs, offer these treatments to patients who are desperate for a cure to their chronic pain, low energy, migraines, and other debilitating symptoms. A medical license is not required to adopt the LLMD title.
Sometimes, these doctors diagnosed patients with Lyme disease without evidence or explanation, and then administered life-threatening treatments, Gellman reported.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that’s passed from infected ticks to humans in the form of a bite, according to the Mayo Clinic. If a person is diagnosed with Lyme disease early on, a 14- to 21-day course of oral or intravenous antibiotics is usually enough to cure them.
But some people experience symptoms long after treatment, and have a mysterious, contested condition called post-Lyme disease syndrome. Doctors are unsure why this happens, so for people with long-lasting symptoms, getting back to good health can feel hopeless.
Enter LLMDs, who offer the glimmer of hope chronic Lyme patients need. The unproven treatments they peddle have a dark side that the CDC has investigated and warned patients about, but they endure.
In 2017, the CDC warned of ‘unproven’ and deadly Lyme-disease treatments
These cases haven’t gone unnoticed.
On June 16, 2017, the CDC published a report with five cases studies on Lyme disease patients who all underwent IV antibiotic treatments. Two of the patients later died, and three required further hospitalizations to treat their worsening conditions, like back pain, sepsis, fever, and infection.
“Treatments offered for chronic Lyme disease, such as prolonged antibiotic or immunoglobulin therapy, lack data supporting effectiveness and are not recommended,” the doctors who penned the report wrote.
Despite malpractice, doctors continue to have successful practices
Despite case studies that have shown alternative Lyme-disease treatments to be deadly, and accusations of malpractice against doctors who administer them, little has changed.
That’s because many Lyme disease patients are willing to try anything to feel better, according to Dr. Christina Nelson, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC Division of Vector-Borne Diseases who co-authored the CDC warning.
“A lot of these patients have had symptoms for years, and they’re desperate for answers,” Nelson told Gellman for the Bloomberg investigation.
Gellman told the story of 19-year-old Anna Burgess, who died on November 20, 2016 after anesthesiologist-turned-LLMD Marvin “Rick” Sponaugle gave her months of IV antibiotics and sedative treatments. When Burgess’ parents took Sponaugle to court for malpractice following her death, documents revealed he’d been previously flagged for Lyme disease-related malpractice in 2014.
Sponaugle’s medical license has not been suspended or revoked, and he has not been fined, Gellman reported.
“We continue to hear of concerning situations that patients are put in and concerning treatments that they’re undergoing,” said Nelson.
She hoped the 2017 CDC report would result in more regulation and a decrease in these cases, but that hasn’t been the case. Until a vetting system is put in place, these life-threatening treatments could endure.