xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Before Wednesday's radio show, I watched on DVD Under Our Skin, the film about Lyme disease by Andy Abrahams Wilson, the brother of a woman who has the disease. Wilson was a guest on Midday today by telephone from California. (You can listen to a podcast of the show by visiting the WYPR web site.)

Wilson's film will be screened at The Senator Theater in Baltimore, starting Friday. You can get information about screenings on the film's web site.

Advertisement

Wilson has made a compelling and disturbing film, and it is beautifully shot, with a strong musical score -- and no narration, and the lack of narration is not a plus. Without the voice of a story-teller, Wilson moves the camera from Lyme sufferer to Lyme sufferer, from doctor to doctor (including one researching Lyme in the basement of his house) to the occasional  (dismissively quoted in brief) expert at Yale or UConn -- no one from Johns Hopkins -- back to the sufferers, and then there are collages of people -- never identified -- who claim they suffer from "chronic Lyme disease" and that their doctors either refused to treat them for it or told them they needed to see a psychiatrist.

This is not a documentary. A documentary suggests journalism. There's not much in the way of journalism here, nothing you might call objective, detached, skeptical inquisition. The New York Times refered to Under Our Skin as a polemic, and that's exactly it. Wilson's targets are the doctors and research scientists who say there is no evidence that Lyme disease is chronic and who believe that long-course antibiotic treatments have not been proven effective in arresting the disease and making its victims healthy again. The film sets out to discredit the Infectious Diseases Society of America, which has declared that chronic Lyme disease does not exist. Wilson's claim that the doctors who wrote the IDSA's treatment guidelines for Lyme have conflicts of interest is just that -- a claim, and the charge is not effectively supported. Under Our Skin is full of suspicions, assertions and anecdotes; it's low on science and objectivity. That doesn't work -- in fact, borders on irresponsible -- when you're telling a medical story.

Advertisement

This is the kind of media "coverage" of Lyme disease that the New England Journal of Medicine criticized in a 2008 article:  "The media frequently disregard complex scientific data in favor of testimonials about patients suffering from purported chronic Lyme disease and may even question the competence of clinicians who are reluctant to diagnose chronic Lyme disease. All these factors have contributed to a great deal of public confusion with little appreciation of the serious harm caused to many patients who have received a misdiagnosis and have been inappropriately treated."

Had Wilson presented the controversy over whether Lyme is chronic and whether long-term use of antibiotics is effective -- had he explored that and presented both sides -- then I would call his film a public service. In that it draws attention to Lyme disease, the most common vector-borne disease in the nation and spreading each year as ticks bite into humans, Under Our Skin deserves props. But it takes a long detour to defend what current credible science dismisses and in the process pretty much goes off a cliff.

If you see the film, make sure you read the following excerpts of letters I received early today in preparation for the radio show. The first is from Dr. Paul G. Auwaerter, clinical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and the second is from Diana Olson, vice president of communications for the IDSA.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement