24. Deputy Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Health the training in place for medical professionals to deal with persons diagnosed with Lyme disease or presenting with the symptoms of same; the comparisons between accuracy of tests carried out here and those carried out in the EU and the United Kingdom including tests carried out that have provided negative results and subsequently proved positive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 6108/18 asked on 08 Feb 2018)
Minister for Health (Deputy Simon Harris): I propose to take Questions Nos. 24, 64, 65 and 181 together.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted to humans by bites from infected ticks infected. The infection is generally mild affecting only the skin but can occasionally be more severe and highly debilitating.
Lyme disease is diagnosed by medical history and physical examination and can be a difficult diagnosis to make in cases which do not develop the characteristic rash. The infection is confirmed by blood tests which look for antibodies produced by an infected person’s body in response to the infection. These normally take several weeks to develop and may not be present in the early stages of the disease.
Laboratories in Ireland generally follow the laboratory testing recommendations of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the Infectious Disease Society of America, the European Federation of Neurological Societies, and the British Infection Association. Irish laboratories have their own quality assurance methods to make sure the tests are working correctly as well as being accredited by the Irish National Accreditation Body to perform the test correctly. In undertaking Lyme testing, it is essential that the results are interpreted in the light of the clinical condition of the patient. If the result of this initial screen is equivocal, the patient’s samples are referred to the UK’s Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory. This laboratory uses a two-tier system recommended by American and European authorities which involves a screening test followed by a confirmatory test.
Testing which is performed abroad may be performed in laboratories which have not met National or International Accreditation (Quality Standards). They tests may be more likely to give a “false positive” result.
Lyme disease can be very successfully treated using common antibiotics by General Practitioners. These antibiotics are effective at clearing the rash and helping to prevent the development of complications. Antibiotics are generally given for up to three weeks. If complications develop, intravenous antibiotics may be considered.
Medical training programmes at undergraduate or postgraduate level in Ireland provides specialist training in infectious diseases, including Lyme disease.