Chronicle Herald journalist tries to get health official fired for mythbusting

Journalist Andrew Rankin tried to get the Chief Medical Officer of Nova Scotia fired for trying to raise awareness of a medical cult causing real harm to its victims.

Taking a dive into the “rabbit hole” of fake diseases opened my eyes to a whole side of pseudoscience that I had never encountered before. One of the most infamous of these is “chronic lyme”.

Dr. Daniel Summers, a Massachusetts pediatrician, summarized “chronic lyme” for The Daily Beast.

With the possible time-limited exceptions of occasional outbreaks of various infectious diseases, nothing inspires quite so much anxiety as Lyme disease.

Caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, the illness is transmitted by the bite of an infected tick. Practicing as a pediatrician in a part of the country where the disease is endemic, I’ve treated a fair share of patients for it. Most have been straightforward cases where the child came in with the characteristic rash. A few have been more complicated and have presented in later stages, including arthritis and meningitis, which required more extensive testing and longer treatment. But in all cases, the appropriate course of antibiotics has been curative……

Undergirding all of this is fear of chronic Lyme disease, which the National Institute of Health describes as a condition often “used to describe illness in patients who have no evidence of a current or past infection with B. burgdorferi.” Though some patients experience lingering symptoms that can last weeks after proper treatment (also known as Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome), attributing these complaints to chronic infection and prescribing multiple courses of antibiotics lacks a sound basis in science. As the CDC echoes, 10 to 20 percent of Lyme sufferers experience “fatigue, pain, or joint or muscle aches [after regular treatment]. Although often called ‘chronic Lyme disease,’ this condition is properly known as ‘Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome’ (PTLDS)”…..

Like all medical conspiracy theories, the notion that the Centers for Disease Control, the Infectious Diseases Society of America [IDSA] and other scientific bodies are colluding to cover up the existence of an insidious illness is a bafflement to me….

With the CDC reporting 300,000 cases of Lyme disease annually, it is important that providers in endemic areas know how to recognize and treat it in its various forms. But it remains a curable illness, and one that does not require course after course of antibiotics. Angry activists may disagree, but treating suffering patients with medications for a condition they don’t have does nothing to profit anybody but the ones who have built a career out of doing so.

The problem is that, and something I have had to learn to address with my own social media postings, is that there really are people suffering. Just not from “chronic lyme’”. Many of the so-called “lyme literate” doctors prescribing these antibiotics (along with many other questionable and dangerous “treatments”) needlessly are in fact misdiagnosing patients who really are sick. The Chicago Tribune gives an example:

Dr. Carol Ann Ryser, a Kansas City, Mo., doctor, has faced malpractice lawsuits from 11 former patients who say she misdiagnosed them with Lyme disease and harmed them with antibiotics and other medicines. Ryser’s malpractice insurers have paid more than $2 million in settlements to former Lyme patients, court records show.

Crystal Hotchkiss, a 21-year-old Kansas woman who sought treatment for pain, said Ryser misdiagnosed her with Lyme. Hotchkiss said she suffered a heart attack, vomited blood and spent three weeks in critical care in 2008 at a Kansas hospital after undergoing months of infusions of antibiotics and other treatments Ryser ordered, according to court records.

FBI agents raided Ryser’s office, home and car in September 2009, carting away 211 patients’ charts, computer hard drives and other files, Ryser said in a deposition in one of the malpractice cases. She has not been charged with a crime.

The Missouri medical board is seeking to discipline Ryser, alleging that she misdiagnosed patients with Lyme disease and overcharged them for unnecessary treatments that “might have been harmful or dangerous.” One patient cashed in her 401(k) account to pay the $15,000 monthly fees for treatment, the board said.

So when Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer, posted on Twitter a retweet calling “chronic lyme” a cult, the backlash was swift and vicious. Imagine being told that something you think you are suffering from isn’t real. That would invoke anger.

Writing for the Chronicle Herald, Andrew Rankin wrote three separate articles filled with quotes from different elements of the cult, the second of which calling for the discipline or dismissal of Dr. Strang. The series of articles served as an even larger calling to the mob.

Calling the chronic lyme community of quacks and their victims a cult is in reality the best way to describe it. One definition in the Merriam Webster dictionary specifically defines it as:

a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator

By calling it a cult, Dr. Strang is acknowledging that the sufferers are truly victims. They truly have done nothing wrong. It is the cult leaders, the medical professionals misdiagnosing their patients, that are the wrong doers.

Dr. Strang is not belittling or insulting the patients, the victims, in any way. The tweet itself was a screenshot of one such victim that managed to break free from the cult. Rankin essentially gaslighted this person in his attempt to say they are wrong.

Another ex-cult member wrote a blog post just this week describing her experience and how she managed to get out.

Perhaps instead of listening to the cult, Andrew Rankin should reach out to those who left it. Or at least some legitimate medical sources. The quacks misleading these people need to be called out, not the doctors who bravely do call them out.

I didn’t get paid to write this, but if you would like to support my classroom you can donate here:

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