April 24, 2013 - 5:00 AM
Patients with chronic Lyme disease are being caught in the middle of a fight between doctors arguing over treatment while suffering with the condition itself.
On one side are physicians like retired doctor Ernie Murakami who believe Lyme disease can be a chronic condition. On the other, is a majority of the medical community who state Lyme disease is an acute condition fixed by short-term antibiotic treatment.
It is not unusual for doctors to disagree. Medicine is always advancing. But there is a problem when it comes to Lyme disease, an infection carried and transmitted through deer tick bites. Murakami calls the whole affair a "a serious problem with doctors causing the problem."
People who said they have Lyme disease were at a recent Penticton conference complaining about not getting the right treatment in time. Some attendees said they are left with permanent damage which might have been prevented.
Murakami has heard this himself from thousands of patients. When he was an active doctor he was seeing people at his office who were diagnosed or were suspected to have Lyme disease. Now that he is retired he educates and advises a global audience of worried patients and curious government officials. These two groups are looking for answers in what appears to be a growing problem.
The disease is spreading or being detected in more and more people according to groups such as the Canadian Lyme Disease Association. Deer ticks were once thought to be an East Coast problem are now being detected as far west as British Columbia. Some have blamed the tick's western migration on climate change and warming temperatures.
Murakami began treating chronic Lyme disease at his former office in Hope, B.C. He studied the problem and read about progress being made overseas. He began to change his treatments, departing from the norm in North America.
The retired physician, now in his 70s, says other doctors believe the treatment requires a maximum of 30 days. Others believe it takes 90 or more days of intense antibiotic therapy.
Doctors who break from normal treatment have faced pressure. Murakami says some doctors have lost their medical license. In B.C. he was investigated by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia.
"The harassment of medical doctors treating Lyme disease is on a regular basis," he says.
The investigation into Murakami's practice began around 2005. He says he was forced to take tests and be re-examined by the college. Doctors were sent to his office to nose through his books. Murakami was told to tell his patients he was under investigation by the college. The physician became worried.
"This is a small town. Isn't this going to hurt my practice and my family?"
Murakami stuck it out for a few more years but his wife convinced him to retire for health reasons.
"My wife begged me to quit. You're going to die she said."
His retirement left thousands of patients without their physician. When a doctor retires or is forced to resign the medical community is supposed to absorb as many patients as possible. This didn't happen with Murakami. His Lyme disease patients were left on their own.
The college refused to comment on the issue. Communications director Susan Prins wrote in an email the college doesn't disclose information about its investigations.
Dr. Perry Kendall disagreed the college would harass a doctor. The B.C. medical health officer said the college would not interfere in this way. He added Lyme disease advocates are the ones making these claims.
Kendall did agree there is a controversy over the existence of chronic Lyme disease. There are large numbers of people who believe they have it even when tests come back negative. And there have been arguments about the science and false negative tests.
The medical health officer concluded more research is needed.
Murakami echoed Kendall's research comment. The global medical community is slowly coming round on this issue, he says. Murakami has traveled around the world and spoken to thousands of patients, medical professionals and elected representatives about Lyme disease.
In B.C. naturopathic physicians have been given the right to prescribe certain medications. These professionals are not licensed by the college.
Ernie now teaches naturopathic physicians about Lyme disease and said they "are all on board."
A Vanity Fair article about the politics of Lyme disease.
Interior Health information about deer ticks and Lyme disease.
Canada's federal government Lyme disease fact sheet.
To contact a reporter for this story, email Shannon Quesnel at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-488-3065.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013