Friday, September 21, 2001
Act now for protection from Lyme disease next year
If your occupation or lifestyle leads you to spend much of your time in the woods or amongst high grasses and bushes, you should consider discussing the Lyme disease vaccine with your physician. The vaccine, marketed under the trade name LYMErix, received FDA approval several years ago.
If you start a six-month course of shots now, you will be protected by the start of the 2002 Lyme disease season. The vaccine series consists of three shots: the first shot, another one month later, and the third twelve months after the first one. Studies evaluating the efficacy of the LYMErix vaccine find it prevents 78 percent of symptomatic Lyme disease. While shorter vaccine courses are also used (typically given over six months), there is no data available on the efficacy of this approach.
If you and your physician decide on the LYMErix course, you should be prepared for the long-term schedule of booster shots every two years. Also, you should check with your health insurance company to ascertain if your covered benefits include the LYMErix vaccine.
The LYMErix vaccine is generally well-tolerated. It is associated with a number of relatively minor side-effects. Some specialists remain concerned that we may yet see LYMErix related joint complaints similar to full-blown, refractory Lyme disease. As time passes, the fact that this phenomenon has not been reported decreases the likelihood that it will ever emerge.
Lyme disease has two distinctive characteristics. First, Lyme disease does not spread from person-to-person. You contract it as the result of a bite from a deer tick infected with the bacteria which causes Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorfi). A disease, which spreads in this manner, can involve many people but it will never pose the same kind of public health threat as a disease that spreads from person to person (such as measles or influenza). Second, though Lyme disease is occasionally debilitating, it is never fatal. Both of these characteristics of Lyme disease make it an unlikely target for a population-wide immunization program.
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