Thursday, 22 October 2009
Shane Ross (Independent)
This matter concerns the need for the Minister for Health and Children to make Lyme disease a notifiable illness in Ireland, thus increasing the specialist medical help available to sufferers as well as publicising the risk from the disease. I raise this issue because one of my constituents has suffered from this disease over a long period of time. Her frustration has been painful, both mentally and in terms of the disease itself. Lyme disease is hardly above the radar in terms of medical recognition in Ireland. The idea is to ensure the Government recognises it as a notifiable disease, defined as any disease required by law to be reported to the Government authorities. The disease is widespread and can be caught in the hills of Wicklow or in South Africa. There is a misconception that one must go abroad to get Lyme disease but that is not true. One can get it from a tick bite that one can find in any country in the world. It is a serious disease in that no cure is known at the moment.
The problem is one of recognition and diagnosis. By making it a notifiable disease it will get that recognition and diagnosis. It is a bacterial infection and needs early diagnosis. It is difficult to diagnose the 300 symptoms that reveal the presence of this disease. Doctors have not recognised Lyme disease until now and have misdiagnosed it as something else. Many other diseases, including the common flu and Bell's palsy, have been mistaken for it. I would like the Minister to consider instructing the HSE to make it a notifiable disease because this is not a matter of getting treatment or monetary benefit for a patient but getting better monitoring of the disease. This is not a special pleading. The great advantage of making this a notifiable disease is that doctors will immediately know more about it and patient awareness will be greater. It will then be diagnosed more quickly. I cannot see any reason it has not then made notifiable by now but I can only imagine that we have not got around to it at this stage.
Patients who suffer from this in Ireland have tended to seek cures that are unnecessary. They tend to head overseas for medical treatment, which is very expensive, or they have gone for less orthodox cures that are not in their interests. The frustration of not finding out what is wrong and the unwillingness of doctors to admit that this is the case means the information flow is lacking in respect of the cure and the treatment.
A company called Trinity Biotech has produced a diagnosis screening process that allows the disease to be diagnosed and resolved. Although it is difficult to treat, if the Government recognised it, the solution could be used to make the suffering of these people much easier. I am not suggesting this is a cure but it will ease the pain of patients and the Minister can do this by providing notifiable disease categorisation which will put the information out in the open and make their lives easier.