In France’s Battles Over Lyme Disease, Lessons in Science Communication

31.10.2017
Par David Scales publié sur UnDark

“What’s your position on Tic-Tox?” Bruno Titotto asked while seeing Dr. François Goehringer, an infectious disease specialist, for the first time. We are in a new specialized Lyme disease clinic in Nancy, in northeast France. Tic-Tox is an alternative treatment of “essential oils,” marketed to those who believe they have a chronic form of Lyme disease. It was pulled from the French market in 2012 by a regulator for safety concerns, and Titotto’s question was not an innocent one. He was essentially asking Goehringer which side of the chronic Lyme debate he was on.

Rather than quieting the concerns of Lyme advocates, France’s national plan is further entrenching two extremes.

Titotto, a 30-something native of Lorraine, which has one of the highest rates of Lyme disease in France, has had odd symptoms for years: joint pains, intense fatigue, and difficulty with balance and memory. After searching on the internet, he thought something called chronic Lyme disease — a nebulous condition not recognized by most physicians — might explain his current symptoms. But his blood tests don’t offer a clear diagnosis.

“I’m not sure if what you have is really Lyme,” Goehringer told him.

That answer is unsatisfying for the legion of French citizens who have become convinced that chronic Lyme disease is real, and that doctors and scientists are flat out wrong. To fight this, the French government released a national plan to combat Lyme last year that included a fact-based public service campaign aimed at raising awareness about the disease’s real prevalence, and, it was hoped, dispelling misconceptions about chronic Lyme.

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