NEWS: Scientists say Lyme study drew wrong conclusions
Excerpted from LYMEDISEASE.org ( Posted: 08/30/2012)
A new statistical review calls into question studies that have been taken as proof that antibiotic retreatment for chronic Lyme disease is futile. That misunderstanding has led to medical guidance that discourages retreatment and insurance coverage for it. Instead, the authors of the review suggest, the proper reading of the studies and their data is that they prove nothing.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Most doctors treat Lyme disease with antibiotics for two to four weeks after diagnosis, but if symptoms persist after that, medical guidelines recommend against antibiotic retreatment. That recommendation may not be warranted. A newly published statistical review of the four studies upon which those guidelines are based reports flaws in design, analysis, and interpretation that call into question the strength of the evidence against retreatment.
Allison DeLong, a biostatistician at Brown University’s Center for Statistical Sciences and lead author of the study published online Aug. 19, 2012, in Contemporary Clinical Trials, said the four studies do not prove that retreatment does not work. That questionable interpretation, however, has led doctors to forgo treatment and insurance companies to withhold reimbursement.
“The goal of the paper is to clarify what was actually found from these clinical trials and what could be said and what couldn’t be said,” DeLong said. “A lack of evidence should not be used to deny treatment when the studies have serious flaws.”
Evidence in the trials is most often inconclusive, she and three co-authors found. Two studies even found some statistically significant benefits from antibiotics.
DeLong has been curious about Lyme disease retreatment for more than a decade since a friend of hers seemed to benefit from therapy. Her friend paid for the treatment out-of-pocket. Statisticians would call that anecdote an “n of 1,” but the example stuck with DeLong as more people, including journalists, began to question whether retreatment really was ineffective.