Small Step Forward
Connecticut physicians were urged Tuesday to provide clinical information on thousands of people who have tested positive for Lyme disease as part of a statewide surveillance and education initiative.
The initiative, announced by Gov. M. Jodi Rell, is designed to track the tick-borne disease in Connecticut and to educate the public about its dangers.
"Our goal is to bring about an efficient, accurate method of recording Lyme disease cases so that we can make informed long-term policy and planning decisions," Rell said in a news release. "We want to truly understand the risk of the disease and its economic impact."
The Connecticut Department of Public Health has also begun collecting positive lab tests for Lyme disease, officials said. The department has an agreement with Quest Diagnostics, the state's largest provider of medical testing, to furnish information of positive tests. The goal is to eventually create a statewide electronic reporting system capable of tracking cases of Lyme and other diseases, state officials said.
Advocates for Lyme disease patients have long sought such a system, saying that Lyme is woefully under-diagnosed and under-reported in Connecticut and many other parts of the country. Under the system currently in place, doctors are required to alert state health officials when they diagnose a patient with Lyme, and those numbers have remained relatively stable in recent years. However, health officials and doctors' groups acknowledge that only a minority of Lyme cases are reported by doctors.
The lab results supplied by Quest led the public health department to request additional information from doctors on 5,500 patients who tested positive for Lyme. The state would like to see how many might actually have been diagnosed with the disease, said Randall Nelson, public health veterinarian who coordinates surveillance on tick-borne diseases.
Nelson stressed that a positive test does not mean a patient actually has Lyme, just as a negative test does not rule out a Lyme diagnosis. By matching doctors' information with lab results, state officials hope to get a more accurate picture about the true prevalence of Lyme disease in the state, he said.
"What we are doing is working with [the public health department] to raise awareness among doctors of the importance of appropriate reporting of occurrences," said Matthew Katz, executive director of the Connecticut State Medical Society. "We need baseline data to see if the disease has increased, and if it has, where it has increased, and why."