Are current tests for Lyme disease detecting the illness early enough?

A new survey on Lyme disease paints a bleak diagnostic picture; it suggests many patients aren't finding out they have the tick-borne disease for years, which is affecting their physical and financial health.

But are those claims to be believed?

On the surface, they are troubling claims about the most common tick-borne illness.

A company marketing a commercial Lyme disease test claims, in a new survey, it took nearly half of patients more than three years to get diagnosed with the infection, with some seeing 10 or more doctors.

That company, IGeneX Inc., says those diagnostic delays dramatically affected employment and health. But can those numbers be trusted?

"In general, it's actually not that hard to diagnose," said Dr. Daniel Solomon, an infectious disease specialist at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital.

"The test that we use for Lyme Disease is an antibody test. So we're looking for antibodies that our body produces against the bacteria."

Dr. Solomon says the problem is those antibodies can't be detected shortly after a tick bite when patients will commonly see a rash.

"Here's what I've seen before: a patient comes in with a rash and a doctor sends a Lyme test and it comes back negative and the doctor says you don't have Lyme Disease," Doctor Solomon said, before pivoting to what Brigham and Women's Hospital does.

"In a region like Boston where Lyme is so common, we just recommend starting treatment right away," he said.

The survey is accurate in suggesting later stages of Lyme disease can be debilitating, but, Dr. Solomon says approved tests detect Lyme antibodies just fine at this point.

"We believe those commercial tests are actually creating a lot of false positives because they're using such sensitive equipment and they're using tests that we would interpret as negative using our standard CDC approved testing," Dr. Solomon said.