Early Lyme disease testing comes with CDC warning

Posted at 9:29 PM, Jul 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-05 23:26:10-04

Hiking in the woods?  Found ticks in your yard?  If you're worried about Lyme disease, you can now get tested before any symptoms show up.  But as the I-Team discovered these tests that promise peace of mind also come with a warning.

Wisconsin is one of the 14 states where 95% of Lyme disease cases occur.  For less than $200 you can take a test that detects some tick-borne illnesses, but early testing can actually miss an infection.

Laurie Meyer used to enjoy spending time outside in her backyard, until she was diagnosed with Lyme disease last year.  "I'm afraid to do any gardening," she told us. Laurie was so sick she ended up in the hospital, "nobody could figure it out initially."

She was eventually tested for Lyme. Doctors think Laurie was infected for a while.  "That's what really degraded my immune system," Laurie said.

Now, more than a year later she still has health issues, "I'm completely deaf in my right ear."  Laurie had to learn how to walk again and still can't drive.  She never found a tick and never developed the bull's eye rash, a sure sign of Lyme disease.  "I think you're lucky if you get the rash, because then you would know to go in," Laurie commented.

For people afraid of the worst case scenario there's a way to get tested for tick-borne diseases without a doctor's order.  'Any Lab Test Now,' in Franklin and Wauwatosa offers thousands of tests, which includes ones that detect Lyme and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.  Owner Pat Goldammer told us they will even test the tick if you bring it in.  "We do not interpret the results," Goldammer pointed out.  "Those are yours to keep and share with your health care professional."

The blood test runs $189 bucks, and there are no requirements.  Most people the lab has tested are symptom-free but worried about exposure.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn't support this approach even though it acknowledges tick-borne diseases are on the rise.  The CDC recommends only being tested if you've been bitten or exposed when symptoms show up, which can be anywhere from three to 30 days.   "The test for Lyme disease detect antibodies which are made by the immune system, to fight off bacteria," CDC Epidemiologist, Natalie Kwit, told us in a phone interview.  She also pointed out it takes time for the body to develop those antibodies and testing too early can miss the infection.

Goldammer is aware of the CDC guidelines and told us, "we don't give medical advice. If you want to come in and take the test we're not going to turn you away."

Another local lab, Coppe in Waukesha, offers a home collection test kit for Lyme. You can order it online for $149.   In response to the CDC's recommendation to wait to be tested the lab pointed out those guidelines have not been "revisited for a very long time."  It also says the Lyme test doesn't replace a doctor's visit but can "aid those in the risk category for acute Lyme disease."

Laurie never connected her fatigue, and constantly getting sick, to Lyme disease but thinks it's something that should be on people's radar, "if you have a lot of vague symptoms maybe just get it checked."

If you do develop the bull's eye rash your doctor will treat for Lyme, no test necessary.  But if you're bitten by a tick and do not have symptoms a Lyme test ordered by a doctor usually isn't covered by insurance and can cost up to $500.

The confirmed number of Lyme disease cases in Wisconsin, from 2014 to 2016, has increased by more than 500.  From 984 in 2014 to almost 1500 in 2016.  There is one reported case this year in Milwaukee County but health officials don't think the person picked it up here.

For more information on signs and symptoms of Lyme Disease and tick-borne illnesses:


How to remove a tick

Wisconsin Dept. of Health Services/Lyme Disease