Instead of draining their savings to seek controversial lyme-disease treatment in the United States, suffering British Columbians can now find a similar treatment close to home, at the offices of select naturopathic physicians.
The new option is all due to a one-year-old regulation change in the province that allows naturopaths to prescribe drugs, once they pass a test.
“For me, it’s a great relief,” said Dr. Ernie Murakami, a former physician and advocate for a different approach to lyme disease.
Murakami says he’s diagnosed and treated 3,000 patients by relying more heavily on a clinical diagnosis based on symptoms rather than prioritizing the results of laboratory tests. Many cases are going undiagnosed in B.C. due to false negatives in lab tests, he claims.
The problem is that lyme disease, if left untreated, produces a number of non-specific but often debilitating symptoms, including neurological symptoms, joint problems and sometimes cardiac problems.
The Hope-based doctor prescribed antibiotics for a minimum of three months if the disease was not detected soon after transmission from a tick. He says he’s seen the conditions of many of his patients, including some from Victoria, improve significantly.
Murakami’s methods, however, aren’t in line with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. The College of Physicians and Surgeons investigated him, and Murakami claims the college refuses to renew his medial licence. The College will not confirm this, citing privacy concerns.
Since then, he’s sent hundreds of patients across the border for treatment, and even some to Europe.
He’s also been lecturing and mentoring naturopaths. Murakami knows of 35, including six in Victoria, willing to treat lyme disease. Few, however, are willing to talk openly about it.
Dr. Neil McKinney, who practises on McKenzie Avenue, is an exception.
“I’m confident we’re not doing anything reckless,” said McKinney, who founded the B.C. Naturopathic Association. “We’re doing something that is done by doctors across North America. There is a track record for using these meds for this disease and we know what to reasonably expect from them and how to keep people safe.”
Some doctors shy away from the treatment because patients’ conditions initially deteriorate, McKinney said.
“It’s very unnerving for a doctor new to the field to be giving something that is fairly risky therapy and then see people get worse,” he said. “It takes a little while to have faith that you are making people better in the long run.”
McKinney now treats a dozen patients for lyme disease.
“We have to fill the gap … until doctors step up,” he said.
McKinney’s methods, however, differ in some ways from those of his mentor, Murakami.
For instance, naturopaths may not prescribe high-dose intravenous antibiotics for patients with advanced symptoms. Instead, McKinney prescribes botanicals alongside lower doses of antibiotics, generally prescribed for one to two months.
“We’re trying to produce a hybrid.”
These differences remove some of the risk factors that concern the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
“There’s been three randomized control trials that have been done that have shown there is no benefit from long-term antibiotic treatment or IV antibiotic treatment beyond the initial treatment course,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, the centre’s director of public health emergency services.
Antibiotic treatment, she said, should last 10 to 15 days unless a patient has cardiac or musculoskeletal symptoms, in which case “they may need several more weeks of treatment.” Longer-term treatment presents a danger, she said. “There are people who have died from it.”
Henry also defends B.C.’s diagnostic procedures.
“The type of testing that we do at our laboratory … is the recognized, accredited testing done around the world,” she said. However, she recognizes it’s not 100 per cent accurate.
“If a clinician really feels that this person has lyme disease regardless of the testing, they should go ahead and treat them.”
For more information or to contact Ernie Murakami, visit www.murakamicentreforlymebc.giving.officelive.com