Children with Lyme disease who are promptly treated with antibiotics have an "excellent" chance of overcoming the effects of the disease, according to a study co-conducted by Dr. Eugene D. Shapiro, professor of pediatrics and of epidemiology at the School of Medicine. The study's findings were reported in the Oct. 24 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. "This is a carefully conducted study which confirms our clinical observations that Lyme disease in children presents with specific symptoms," says Dr. Shapiro. "I'm pleased that this is being published; hopefully it will help to correct some of the many misconceptions that exist about Lyme disease."
Dr. Shapiro conducted the study, along with Dr. Michael A. Gerber, professor of pediatrics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, over a 20-month period in five pediatric practices in southeastern Connecticut. The research involved 201 patients ranging from 1 to 21 years old; the median age of the group was 7. Most of the children 89 percent went to their pediatrician with the circular rash, known as erythema migrans, that is characteristic of Lyme disease. All but four of the children were treated with a single course of conventional antibiotics for two to four weeks, and almost all began to feel better shortly after beginning therapy. At a two- month checkup, 94 percent were free of Lyme disease symptoms. About two years later, all patients were free of any objective evidence of either chronic or recurrent Lyme disease.
The study represents an important contribution because it specifically investigates the clinical course and outcomes of Lyme disease in children, according to the researchers. Lyme disease, a multi-system infection, is transmitted by deer ticks. Symptoms include the above-mentioned rash, arthritis and facial nerve palsy, as well as muscle and joint aches and general pain and fatigue.
The study "will reassure parents whose children have Lyme disease," says Dr. Gerber. "The study shows that Lyme disease in children is easy to diagnose and easy to treat, and the long-term prognosis is excellent."