Beginning July 1, physicians in Virginia will be required to provide patients with information about the limitations of tests for Lyme disease, one of the fastest-growing infectious diseases in the United States.
Advocates for better education and a more open-minded approach to treating the disease praised House Bill 1933, sponsored by Del. Barbara Comstock, R-Fairfax, on Wednesday when Gov. Bob McDonnell signed the measure.
“This was truly a successful grass-roots effort, proving that people working together can bring about real change to benefit victims of Lyme disease,” said Monte Skall, executive director of the National Capital Lyme Disease Association in Washington.
Skall had previously said the new law will not help people who already have Lyme but that it will prevent others from getting it.
The disease, which is typically caused by a tick bite, is curable with a limited dose of antibiotics when treated early. But if left untreated or treatment is delayed, the disease can become chronic with serious complications, including heart disease, joint pain and swelling, and muscle weakness.
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Existing tests by commercial laboratories already bear disclaimer warnings that the results may yield false negatives, requiring additional testing. But many doctors fail to disclose this to their patients — which the new law is supposed to change.
Comstock on Thursday called her measure “a great step in raising awareness about this terrible disease and the high incidence of patients receiving false negative tests for Lyme.”
The bill’s co-patron, Del. Timothy D. Hugo, R-Fairfax, said he has seen the devastating effects of the disease for himself.
“I have had close friends and neighbors become permanently disabled due to Lyme disease. I know that if they had been properly diagnosed, they would lead very different lives today,” Hugo said. “It is imperative that we provide patients with the knowledge that testing for Lyme disease often produces false negatives.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme is the sixth-fastest-growing disease nationwide.
The Medical Society of Virginia had opposed the legislation, calling it an attempt to codify a standard of medical care.