Antibiotics in Treating Lyme Disease: Helpful or Useless?

For people suffering from chronic Lyme disease, this week's flurry of new research may be confusing.

Are antibiotics helpful or useless when it comes to treating the disease?

Brenda Savino, 31, says the antibiotics she's been on for 7 months have saved her life.

"If I wasn't put on the antibiotics, there's a good chance the Lyme could have won and I could not have been here today," Savino says.

Savino was angered by a new study suggesting that long-term antibiotic use doesn't work for Lyme disease. Doctors gave 129 patients antibiotics or placebo for 90 days and found no difference between the two.

"This is not a persistent infection and the use of chronic antibiotic treatment is not any better than a placebo," says study author Dr. Mark Klempner of Boston University School of Medicine.

Critics of the study say it was too short--Savino saw results after 6 months--but many doctors agree that there's no science supporting the use of antibiotics for Lyme disease.

"No one has yet figured out what…makes every one of these people better, we just don't know at this point, but the studies clearly show that long courses of antibiotics do not do it," says Dr. Peter Welch, an infectious disease expert at Northern Westchester Medical Center in New York.

The question of how best to treat Lyme disease is becoming more pressing as the disease spreads. Though relatively difficult to get, the number of cases overall is on the rise--up about 5,000 a year since the beginning of the 1990s.

Antibiotics have been pursued as the logical answer because the disease is caused by bacteria, and studies show an antibiotic can prevent the disease if given immediately after a tick bite.

The jury is still out as to what works best for chronic sufferers. Savino plans to stick with her plan until someone shows her something that works better.
©MMII CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed