Cllr Maura Healy-Rae has questioned whether the current diagnosis and treatment of chronic Lyme disease in Ireland is suitable to tackle what, for many people, is a debilitating illness.
The Kilgarvan-based Independent representative was referring to a letter sent by the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to Kerry County Council in March.
In the letter, the Minister stated that Infectious Diseases clinics in Ireland are available to patients, and there is no need for Irish residents to travel to other countries for diagnosis or treatment.
Cllr Healy-Rae criticised this, saying the comments have infuriated sufferers of the disease and that it shows a lack understanding on Minister Donnelly and his Department’s part.
Cllr Healy-Rae said testing in Ireland is only able to diagnose those who are recently infected but not those who have been infected over a longer period.
She explained how these tests screen for antibodies. But as chronic Lyme-disease sufferers have suppressed immune systems, their system often does not produce detectable antibodies.
Cllr Healy-Rae believes this is the reason why many people are being misdiagnosed with other diseases such as chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and fibromyalgia.
In the past, Lyme-disease sufferers in Kerry have tended to travel to German laboratories where testing the cells for the presence – or previous presence – of Lyme disease is considered more effective.
Cllr Healy-Rae has raised the case of friend and neighbour Karin O’Shea from Kilgarvan on several occasions. Karin was eventually diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2021 having endured two years of energy-sapping symptoms.
Cllr Healy Rae states the treatment here is in antibiotic form and ‘not ‘effective enough’ for those recently infected, and before the disease has taken chronic hold.
“The intensive treatment needed for chronic Lyme-disease sufferers is not available in Ireland,” Cllr Healy-Rae said.
“Really and truly, why does the Minister think any person would subject themselves to such intensive treatment at such an enormous cost abroad if they didn’t believe it were necessary and critical to them in having any quality of life and to tackle their severe symptoms?” she asked.
“Why would they travel abroad for treatment unless they were medically advised to do so? In my view, the Minister’s response shows immense arrogance as it implies that he knows better than a sufferer of Lyme disease,” Cllr Healy-Rae explained.
The heavy financial cost to patients was also cited by Cllr Healy-Rae. She said the cost of a test in Germany is €1,000. This can rise to around €40,000 the longer, and more intensive, the treatment lasts.
Cllr Healy-Rae said post-treatment medication alone can cost in the region of €500 per month.
“Yet the Minister believes there’s no need for people to travel abroad either for diagnosis or treatment,” she said.
“However, the sufferers believe there is a need. This Government is failing Lyme-disease sufferers. Their denials and belittling responses on the matter only serve to rub salt to the wound,” she added.
Cllr Healy-Rae tabled a motion at a recent full meeting of Kerry County Council (KCC). She requested that KCC write to Minister Donnelly seeking clarification on the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease. Lyme disease is caused by a bite from an infected tick.