By Kim Walter
The bill that would require physicians to warn patients of false negative results after getting tested for Lyme disease is heading back to the House of Delegates.
On Feb. 14, the Senate was provided with an amended version of HB 1933 after changes were made to it through the Health, Welfare and Institutions subcommittee. The changes left the bill much different from its Senate version.
SB 971, which was approved relatively easily on Jan. 29, requires doctors to give patients who have been tested for lyme disease a document which outlines concerns over the results. Testing for the disease can be problematic in the first one to two months, as a person's immune system may not have begun to react to the infection at that time.
According to the National Capital Lyme Disease Association, 71 percent of patients getting the test done will get a false negative.
Several senators, including Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Upperville, testified in support of the bill, recognizing the disease's devastating impact in certain areas of the state.
When brought to the House's subcommittee, members changed the bill to one that would simply require the Virginia Department of Health to keep a warning of the false negatives on its website. It also encouraged doctors to inform their patients of the concern, but did not require the passing of the information.
Monte Skall, executive director of the National Capital Lyme Disease Association, said the changes "just aren't enough."
"If a person is told that their test came back negative for Lyme disease, do you really think they'll go check the Health Department's website for more information?" she asked. "Unless told by their doctor, the average person probably wouldn't realize that they should be retested, especially if their symptoms continue."
Skall said the association has roughly 3,000 members, but 40 percent of those are "reached by snail mail."
"I'd say that there are plenty of folks who will get tested, who don't have a computer or regularly check the Internet, much less the Health Department's website," she said.
Skall said physicians on the subcommittee responsible for the amendments fear government influence in their practice, and also think the communicated warning would negatively effect the physician/patient relationship.
On Thursday, the Senate's Health and Education committee voted for a substitute HB1933, which has the language that Skall and other supporters of the original bill favor.
If approved, the required written information would state that as of 2011 and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme disease is the sixth fastest growing disease in the United States.
After acknowledging that a patient's doctor has ordered a laboratory test for the presence of Lyme disease, the written information would state: "Current laboratory testing for Lyme disease can be problematic and standard laboratory tests often result in false negative and false positive results, and if done too early, you may not have produced enough antibodies to be considered positive because your immune response require time to develop antibodies."
It goes on to say: "If you are tested for Lyme disease, and the results are negative, this does not necessarily mean you do not have Lyme disease. If you continue to experience symptoms, you should contact your health care provider and inquire about the appropriateness of retesting or additional treatment."
The provisions of the bill would expire on July 1, 2018.
Skall said 51 delegates will need to vote in support of the bill on Tuesday in order for it to be approved.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org