As reported by the Stamford Times, March 16, 2009.

Linking Lyme Disease to Violence Is Premature, Specialist Says

By Blythe Bernhard

ST. LOUIS — Doctors say it's premature to link Lyme disease to violent behavior following the Sunday shooting of a Maryville, Ill., church pastor.

"This would be such an unusual manifestation of Lyme disease to make it unbelievable," said Dr. Lawrence Zemel, a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine who specializes in Lyme disease. "We have no idea what his medical records show."

Terry Joe Sedlacek, 27, was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated battery in the shooting death of the Rev. Fred Winters.

Sedlacek's mother, Ruth Abernathy, has said her son was initially diagnosed with mental illness several years before testing positive in 2003 for Lyme and another tick-borne disease, ehrlichiosis. In an interview with the Post-Dispatch last summer, Abernathy attributed her son's symptoms of confusion, speech problems and brain lesions to the diseases.

Lyme disease is known for causing symptoms similar to flu and other illnesses. Neurologic symptoms can include meningitis and paralysis of the face. Other, rarer complications can be long-term and include numbness in the hands and feet and problems with short-term memory and concentration, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There have been scattered reports of depression attributed to Lyme disease, but any psychiatric symptoms are controversial and divide the medical community. In 2001, a Connecticut judge rejected a defense of Lyme disease in the conviction of a 22-year-old man who attacked a stranger with an ax.

"It would be unfortunate if Lyme disease suddenly became an excuse or justification for irrational behavior," Zemel said.

Zemel works with the Infectious Diseases Society of America to combat what they say are myths surrounding Lyme disease and a tendency by some doctors and patients to attribute a host of medical issues to the disease. In his practice, Zemel says, he has seen children with arthritis and leukemia who had been wrongly diagnosed with Lyme disease.

The society says there are objective signs of Lyme disease that can be confirmed by lab tests and advocates a two- to three-week treatment course of antibiotics, the same as recommendations from the CDC.

Doctors in the much smaller International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society believe the disease is underdiagnosed and undertreated, and requires antibiotic treatment for months or years in chronic cases that can include symptoms of anxiety, panic and rage.

Psychiatrists should refer their patients to general practitioners to check for physical illnesses, says New York-based Dr. Daniel Cameron, the group's president.

"There are a lot of physicians who are reluctant to diagnose Lyme disease," he said. "They don't want to get involved in something that has psychiatric and medical issues."

Both doctors agree that one positive to come from the shooting is awareness of a disease that affects about 20,000 people each year nationwide.