Mitt Romney takes on Lyme disease

If I were going to guess which component of the eastern Connecticut brand might surface in this year's presidential race, I would have said submarines.

But no, it was Lyme disease that Mitt Romney raised recently in his campaign in Virginia.

"Last week, a lot of political observers were scratching their heads after reports that the Romney campaign is sending direct mail to Virginia voters on, of all things, Lyme disease," Rachel Maddow wrote on her blog on msnbc.com. "It looked like evidence of campaign micro-targeting reaching new levels of sophistication."

Michael Specter wrote on newyorker.com: "Just when it looked like Mitt Romney might ignore scientific issues this fall, he vowed, in a flyer he sent out last week, to "get control" of the "massive epidemic" of chronic Lyme disease "wreaking havoc" on the residents of northern Virginia."

Indeed, Romney promised to help shield doctors from lawsuits if they pursue the aggressive antibiotics treatments for people who say they suffer from chronic Lyme disease, a course of treatment the medical establishment says is unnecessary, even dangerous.

Curiously, in taking up the cause of chronic Lyme disease activists, Romney follows a path blazed by Connecticut's Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who has been advocating for them since his time as attorney general.

Attorney General Blumenthal accused the Infectious Diseases Society of America of manipulating its guidelines to benefit the insurance industry in denying the need for the controversial long-term antibiotics for chronic Lyme.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also come under attack by Blumenthal and chronic Lyme advocates, since the CDC also recommends against the long-term antibiotics.

An independent panel of scientists and physicians sided with the IDSA and concluded in 2010 that predominant medical guidelines for treatment of persistent Lyme disease correctly recommend against long-term antibiotic treatment.

The bloggers concluded that Romney, in sending out the Lyme mailer, was more or less channeling "medical quackery" with the same gusto Republicans usually deny global warming.

Specter noted, too, on newyorker.com, that it is interesting that tick-borne diseases are actually growing worse with a warmer climate that allows ticks to thrive longer.

Laura Helmuth, on slate.com, wrote how Romney and Ryan are seeking to profit from a huge public health problem and ignore science in the bargain.

Here's her suggested translation of the Romney mailer on Lyme disease sent out in Virginia: "Forget the science, just channel your legitimate fear of a dangerous disease and your misguided fear of the medical establishment into a vote for us."

The bloggers trace Romney's conversion to believing in controversial treatment for chronic Lyme disease patients to a recent campaign trail meeting in Virginia with a creationist academic who says he and his family are all infected.

Most of the bloggers who took up the topic chose to make fun of Republicans on the topic of science and medicine.

"Romney's desire to get on top of this 'epidemic' is not quite as ludicrous as Michele Bachmann's stunning and completely groundless declaration, early in the primary campaign, that the vaccine for human papillomavirus caused mental retardation," Specter wrote.

Let's hope that if Romney, energized by his new debate win, weighs in on other issues that grow out of eastern Connecticut - the origin of the discovery of Lyme disease - he comes to different, more mainstream conclusions.

Let's hope, say, he wants to build more submarines and keep the New London Irish Parade in New London.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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