Romney Campaign Embraces Lyme Quackery

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
October 2, 2012

The Romney campaign has distributed a flyer in Northern Virginia pledging to fight Lyme disease, which it describes as a “massive epidemic threatening Virginia.” This strategy is intended to appeal to voters in two ways. First, by scaring recipients into thinking that they and their families need increased government efforts to protect them from an imminent threat. Second, by appealing to Lyme activists who promote the dubious concept of “chronic Lyme disease.” The flyer states:


It’s a disease that begins from a small bug. . .

But Lyme Disease has quickly become the most common vector-borne disease in the United States, devastating our families and our pets.

It’s a serious problem – that demands immediate attention.

As president, Mitt Romney will ensure that real action is taken to get control of this epidemic that is wreaking havoc on Northern Virginians:

IMPROVE SYNERGY: Ensure that government agencies have an open line of communication and work with patients, researchers, doctors, and businesses in an objective, comprehensive manner.

INCREASE AWARENESS: Work with federal and state health agencies to support Lyme Disease awareness efforts to help prevent further spread of the disease.

SUPPORT TREATMENT: Encourage increased options for the treatment of Lyme Disease and provide local physicians with protection from lawsuits to ensure they can treat the disease with the aggressive antibiotics that are required.


The flyer’s message is very improper. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention receives about 1,000 reports annually of Lyme disease among Virginians [1]. Lyme disease is not easily acquired. It is caused by an organism that can be transmitted to humans by infected ticks that remain attached to the skin for at least 36 hours—and infections that become apparent are easily cured by 2 to 4 weeks of antibiotic treatment [2]. However, a small network of physicians and their patients have been barraging the public with misinformation, dire personal stories, rumors, and exaggerated claims about thousands of people being maimed, killed, and bankrupted each year by Lyme disease [3]. Their core message is that Lyme is a deadly, chronic disease that requires long-term antibiotic therapy.

Several doctors who market themselves as “Lyme specialists” have been disciplined by state medical boards for unprofessional conduct. The activist network is seeking laws to block further board action against such doctors. In line with this, the Romney flier advocates providing “local physicians with protection from lawsuits to ensure they can treat the disease with the aggressive antibiotics that are required.”

Romney’s interest appears to have been aroused by contact with Michael Farris, a prominent conservative who believes that his wife and children all suffer from chronic Lyme disease [4] . The wife’s doctor reportedly is Joseph Jemsek, M.D., who, in 2009, moved his practice to Washington, D.C. following disciplinary action by the North Carolina Medical Board [5].

  1. Reported Lyme disease cases by state, 2002-2011. CDC Web site, accessed Oct 7, 2012.
  2. Wormser GP and others. The clinical assessment, treatment, and prevention of Lyme disease, human granulocytic anaplasmosis, and babesiosis: clinical practice guidelines by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clinical Infectious Diseases 43:1089-1094, 2006.
  3. McSwegan E. Lyme disease: Questionable diagnosis and treatment. Quackwatch, Oct 7, 2012.
  4. Legum J. Why Mitt Romney’s Lyme disease mailers are dangerous. ThinkProgress Health, Sept 29, 2012.
  5. Barrett S. Joseph Jemsek, M.D. charged with unprofessional conduct. Casewatch, January 1, 2009.

This article was posted on October 2, 2012.