Some people claim that lyme disease can last for months or even years, and that they require long term medical treatment (usually antibiotics).

Is there any medical evidence for this? Or is it snake oil?

  • Could you please link to a notable source for this claim and explain why are you skeptical of it? A quick look on Wikipedia already answers the question with references (yes, it can last years).
    – nico
    Jan 10, 2013 at 19:51
  • 2
    Lyme symptoms can definitely last years without treatment. My understanding is that "Chronic Lyme Disease" is a type of lyme where people believe they need extended treatments as the disease persists beyond what conventional medicine believes. Here is an article from the New England Journal of Medicine: nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra072023
    – windfinder
    Jan 10, 2013 at 20:13
  • 2
    Lyme disease is a popular disease for fraudulent doctors and hypochondriacs, its sounds exotic and is pretty hard to actually get for most people in the U.S. The article you linked to practically says its a fake disease.
    – Ryathal
    Jan 11, 2013 at 14:37
  • There is a lot of back and forth on this. movies.nytimes.com/2009/06/19/movies/19under.html It doesn't seem so clear cut to me.
    – windfinder
    Jan 11, 2013 at 14:51
  • 4
    @Stefan - He clearly means "Chronic Lyme" is fake, not that Lyme Disease itself is fake... >.<
    – windfinder
    Jan 17, 2013 at 15:38

1 Answer 1


Chronic Lyme disease or also the Post-Lyme disease syndrome is regarded the third and last stage following an infection with Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria [1], usually acquired through tick bites. It is not hard to get Lyme disease, especially not if you're in New England (incidence is over 30 in 100,000 in New England according to the CDC, around 8 for all of the US).

If you want to read up on Lyme disease, the Wikipedia Article is well written and documented, so I'm only going to address the original question:

Late-stage Lyme disease usually occurs months after the bite in unsuccessfully treated patients. It may cause symptoms such as arthritis, neurologic symptoms or even encephalitis, from mild to very severe [2].

What may have caused your hoax thought is that in some patients with chronic Lyme the Borrelia bacteria are undetectable, meaning neither live bacteria, nor antibodies against Borrelia antigens nor Borrelia DNA (via PCR) can be found. This means that there may be no hard evidence that Borrelia bacteria are still in the body, which is called lack of a biologic marker.

There have been a lot of studies about this issue, you can find a lengthy review of references in [3] (here), I'm not going to list them here again.

To synthesize (and no, I'm not an expert in this matter), the symptoms of the Post-Lyme disease are very real and occur in a few percent of Lyme disease patients. There is some uncertainty because in some patients it may be impossible to detect Borrelia or Borrelia markers, which has lead to numerous studies and the proposal of naming the condition Post-Lyme disease syndrome, acknowledging that the symptoms follow a Lyme disease even if the Borrelia are no longer detectable [3], this section specifically. As you can glance from this extensive presentation not everyone is happy with that name, however, because there is a lot of evidence pointing to a connection to Borrelia.

  1. Ryan KJ; Ray CG, ed. (2004). Sherris Medical Microbiology (4th ed.). McGraw Hill. pp. 434–37. ISBN 0-8385-8529-9.
  2. Nau R, Christen HJ, Eiffert H. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2009 Jan;106(5):72-81; PMID 19562015
  3. Wormser GP et al. Clin Infect Dis. 2006 Nov 1;43(9):1089-134. Epub 2006 Oct 2. PMID 17029130

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .