A new study suggests that ‘internet connectivity’ could be one of the key mechanisms for causing Lyme disease, the infectious disease that affects millions of people worldwide.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, was led by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
It was published ahead of the second annual meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva on Friday (June 23).
The paper, titled ‘Influencing Internet-Based Therapies to Enhance Health Care Outcomes: The Case of Lyme Disease’ was authored by two authors from NIAID, Dr Ravi Gupta and Dr Robert P. Loeffler.
They are based at NIAIDS Clinical Research Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and have been involved in many important work with Lyme disease.
Loeffling, a molecular biologist at NIB, and Gupta are currently collaborating on a paper entitled ‘The Emerging Role of the Internet in Lyme Disease’, which will be published in January next year.
The researchers say the study was conducted by researchers at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM), who used an online tool to examine whether ‘internet connections’ – the ability to link up with others online – could influence patients’ outcomes in Lyme disease patients.
They also looked at whether these connections would affect how patients responded to other treatments, such as antibiotics, which are available for a variety of other illnesses, including Lyme disease and the flu.
Dr Loefler said:”Our findings show that a number of interventions may have the potential to improve outcomes in the management of Lyme-associated illness in patients with a chronic disease such as Lyme disease.”
In this case study, the researchers looked at patients who had been diagnosed with Lyme and then enrolled in the NIAIDs Lyme Disease Cooperative Care program.
The program, which was launched in 2012, allows Lyme disease sufferers who are living with the disease to receive free testing and treatment at a community clinic in Washington state.
“This study shows that people who use the internet, particularly when they are on social media, can influence their patients’ clinical outcome,” said Dr Loeford.
“We also found that internet connectivity can also have an impact on the outcomes of people with chronic Lyme disease who have not responded to any treatment.”
The researchers also used a comparison group of people who had no history of Lyme illness.
The authors noted that the results showed that the internet connection was “a strong predictor” of a patient’s outcome, but that “internet connectivity was not associated with any additional outcomes.”
The authors also noted that a more detailed study of the online data from these two cohorts is needed to confirm their findings.
In the future, the study could lead researchers to explore other ways of improving the health of patients with chronic and refractory Lyme disease by identifying patients who are ‘in between’ the symptoms of Lyme and other infections, the authors said.
In addition to Gupta and Loeffeling, the paper’s other authors were Dr Robert D. Fauci, Dr Daniel L. Miller, and Dr Jennifer B. Sullins.______Written by Stephanie T. Collins; image credit: NIAIDA