CAPSULE: Writer and director Andy Abrahams Wilson looks at the spread of and effects of Lyme Disease in the United States. He examines the controversy of whether chronic Lyme Disease actually exists and looks at the financial and political interests aligned in not recognizing the disease. We meet some of the sufferers and the doctors who risk their careers to treat the disease. The film is certainly not unbiased, but allows those who do not believe in the disease to give their reasons. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
As recounted in UNDER OUR SKIN, Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection that can result from the bite of a deer tick. Ticks are a reservoir for a spiral-shaped bacteria called Borrelia. In its early stages it can cause rashes, joint problems, and symptoms like influenza. In most cases antibiotics can cure the disease in a matter of weeks. But cases of the disease have spread across the continental United States, with some cases in all states with the exception of Hawaii. Making matters worse, there may be a much longer-term chronic Lyme Disease. Whether chronic Lyme exists or not and what are its symptoms is the subject of intense disagreement. That controversy is the topic of director/writer/producer Andy Abrahams Wilson's documentary UNDER OUR SKIN. The case for the existence of chronic Lyme Disease seems a strong one, based on this documentary, but this review will not take sides.
In many (alleged?) cases chronic Lyme Disease is painful and debilitating. Frequently it is associated with fever, extreme joint pain, muscle pain, headaches, and stiff neck. Complicating the matter is the fact that diagnostic tests have very poor accuracy--around 50%. The infection rate is growing and widespread. But the medical community claims that there is not enough evidence. The film examines this controversy and many of its aspects. Wilson makes a case that the insurance industry is fighting the recognition of chronic Lyme for what are claimed to be medical reasons but which are also very strong financial reasons. If chronic Lyme is accepted as a serious disease, insurance companies will be obliged to carry the financial burden of treatments. The insurance companies are interlocked with the medical community that has a hard time finding evidence of the disease and is denying what evidence is available. Symptoms claimed to be arising from chronic Lyme are being attributed to other causes including psychosomatic problems.
It is hard to deny that the people who believe they are victims of this disease are suffering, and the cause appears to be chronic Lyme. The film tells us the story of six victims of the disease. Doctors are treating patients do seem to be getting positive results. However, these doctors also face losing their license to practice and also face very large lawsuits. One such doctor is Dr. Charles Ray Jones, who has treated 10,000 children for Lyme Disease. He was charged by the Connecticut State Medical Board with unprofessional conduct. A legal defense fund funded in large part by his patients was established to pay his legal fees.
Some issues probably should have at least been mentioned. If Lyme Disease is distributed across the country, it must be fairly common in Canada also. If Canadian doctors accept the chronic form exists, that would be a powerful endorsement for the filmmakers' point of view. If they themselves doubt that the chronic form exists, they do so for medical rather than monetary reasons. Dr. Jones's treatments appear to be effective, but to what extent does that prove his diagnosis? One cure can work for many different causes.
This is a good science documentary about a problem that does not get much press. It even manages to have a hopeful ending rooted in recent discoveries about Lyme Disease. This film raises disturbing questions--not just those related to the disease itself but also broader questions of the conflicts of interest across the insurance and medical community. These issues need to be understood and possibly remedied. I rate UNDER OUR SKIN a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1202579/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/under_our_skin/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper