Decades of research have demonstrated with overwhelming evidence that Lyme disease is easily cured with generic antibiotics, even in late stage.
However, some individuals with a history of Lyme disease may have persistent symptoms even after treatment. These symptoms have been called Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS) and usually diminish with time.
Some questioned whether PTLDS is caused by a persistent Lyme disease infection and proposed that long term antibiotics may help such patients.
Patients who received long term antibiotics have zealously evangelized for long-term antibiotic treatment because they believed it helped them.
But, as Dr. Harriet Hall describes in her course on Science-Based Medicine, we humans may believe ineffective treatments work for many reasons:
- The disease may have run its natural course.
- Many diseases are cyclical.
- We are all suggestible.
- The wrong treatment may get the credit.
- Diagnosis and prognosis may be wrong.
- Temporary mood improvement confused with cure
- Psychological needs affect behavior and perceptions
- We confuse correlation with causation
Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are experiments that help remove human biases that may influence results. In an RCT, subjects are randomly assigned to either a group receiving a control treatment (usually a placebo) or a group receiving the treatment being tested.
Ideally, the subjects should be blinded so they do not know which treatment they are receiving. The outcomes of the groups are then compared.
As shown below, four American RCTs and two European RCTs all found long term antibiotics did not outperform placebo. These trials also showed that antibiotics can cause severe side effects.
Of course, a number of studies found that false Lyme diagnoses are common. Lyme disease was never the cause of the problems in the vast majority of quackery victims who receive a fake “chronic Lyme” diagnosis.
Well-designed RCTs can provide strong evidence regarding drug safety and efficacy. However, because no single study is definitive, it is important to base treatment decisions on multiple studies.
In addition to RCTs, systematic reviews (listed below) all found that long term antibiotics are not warranted for Lyme disease.
A systematic review is a type of study that summarizes the evidence of multiple studies into one document. A meta-analysis uses statistical methods to compile data from multiple studies into summary measures. These types of studies are considered even stronger evidence than RCTs on the hierarchy of scientific evidence shown below, as explained by TheLogicOfScience.com.
Not scientific evidence:
- YouTube and Netflix videos
- Personal anecdotes (“It worked for me!”)
- Gut feelings
- Parental instincts
- some guy you know
- Chronic Lyme support groups
- “Lyme literate” doctors
- Functional and integrative medicine practitioners
- Naturopaths, chiropractors, and homeopaths
- Internet surveys like MyLymeData
- Other red flags of Chronic Lyme quackery
Because they may not apply to humans, studies in animals and in vitro (petri dish or test tube) are among the weaker forms of evidence when determining if a treatment is safe and effective.
Cherry picked evidence may introduce bias. Therefore, case reports and opinion papers are also considered to be weak.
Proponents of fake chronic Lyme diagnoses and treatments frequently use weak evidence (e.g. from animal or petri dish experiments) to justify their beliefs. They also ignore the overwhelming stronger evidence that contradicts their beliefs.
In 2010, members of an independent review panel unanimously agreed that the 2006 Lyme disease guidelines produced by the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) were medically and scientifically justified. The review panel was certified by an independent ombudsman to be free from conflicts of interest.
Among other things, the review panel concluded:
- In the case of Lyme disease, inherent risks of long-term antibiotic therapy were not justified by clinical benefit.
- To date, there is no convincing biologic evidence for the existence of symptomatic chronic B. burgdorferi infection among patients after receipt of recommended treatment regimens for Lyme disease.
Since 2010, the evidence against long term antibiotics and “chronic Lyme” has become only stronger. Therefore, whether the Lyme diagnosis is real or fake, long term antibiotics can be considered quackery.
Independent Systematic Reviews
The following reviews are in addition to those listed on our scientific consensus page.
UK NICE Guidelines, 2018.
Cadavid D, et al. Antibiotics for the neurological complications of Lyme disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;12:CD006978.
Sanchez E, et al. Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention of Lyme Disease, Human Granulocytic Anaplasmosis, and Babesiosis: A Review. JAMA. 2016;315(16):1767-77. [pdf mirror]
Dersch R, et al. Efficacy and safety of pharmacological treatments for acute Lyme neuroborreliosis – a systematic review. Eur J Neurol. 2015;22(9):1249-59.
The 6 Negative Randomized Placebo-controlled Trials
The Berende Trial 🇳🇱
Berende A, et al. Randomized Trial of Longer-Term Therapy for Symptoms Attributed to Lyme Disease. N Engl J Med. 2016;374(13):1209-20. [Persistent Lyme Empiric Antibiotic Study Europe (PLEASE)]
Berende A, et al. Effect of prolonged antibiotic treatment on cognition in patients with Lyme borreliosis. Neurology. 2019;
Commentary on the Berende trial
- Neurology Today: Prolonged Antibiotics Do Not Improve Neurocognitive Outcomes in Persistent Lyme Disease
- Science-Based Medicine: Chronic Lyme Disease – Another Negative Study
The Fallon Trial 🇺🇸
Fallon BA, et al. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of repeated IV antibiotic therapy for Lyme encephalopathy. Neurology. 2008;70(13):992-1003.
The Oksi Trial 🇫🇮
Oksi J, et al. Duration of antibiotic treatment in disseminated Lyme borreliosis: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, multicenter clinical study. Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis. 2007;26(8):571-81.
The Krupp Trial 🇺🇸
Krupp LB, et al. Study and treatment of post Lyme disease (STOP-LD): a randomized double masked clinical trial. Neurology. 2003;60(12):1923-30.
Kaplan RF, et al. Cognitive function in post-treatment Lyme disease: do additional antibiotics help? Neurology. 2003;60(12):1916-22.
Commentary on the Krupp trial
- Jwatch: Medicating Lyme Disease Before It Starts and After It Ends
- Jwatch: More Studies on Prolonged Antibiotic Therapy for Chronic Lyme Disease, 2003
The Two Klempner Trials 🇺🇸
Klempner MS, et al. Two controlled trials of antibiotic treatment in patients with persistent symptoms and a history of Lyme disease. N Engl J Med. 2001;345(2):85-92. [Two trials published together]
Of course, there are also a number of additional studies that support the scientific consensus that long term antibiotics for Lyme disease is not justified.
For example, the following RCT randomized patients with late Lyme disease to receive either 14 days of intravenous antibiotics (n=80) or 28 days of intravenous antibiotics (n=63). There were 5 treatment failures in the 14 day group and 0 treatment failures in the 28 day group.
Dattwyler RJ, et al. A comparison of two treatment regimens of ceftriaxone in late Lyme disease. Wien Klin Wochenschr. 2005; 117(11-12):393–7.
Discussion by scientists
NIH: Chronic Lyme Disease
NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Lyme Disease
Klempner MS, et al. Treatment trials for post-Lyme disease symptoms revisited. Am J Med. 2013;126(8):665-9.
Auwaerter PG. Point: Antibiotic therapy is not the answer for patients with persisting symptoms attributable to lyme disease. Clin Infect Dis. 2007;45(2):143-8.
Melia MT, Auwaerter PG. Time for a Different Approach to Lyme Disease and Long-Term Symptoms. N Engl J Med. 2016;374(13):1277-8.