To determine whether someone has lyme disease, doctors in the Netherlands often use antibody tests. For some time, so-called cellular tests have been on the market. These tests are not reliable, according to the VICTORY study by Amsterdam UMC, Radboudumc and RIVM. Ewoud Baarsma, researcher at Amsterdam UMC: "These new tests incorrectly give too many people a negative or positive test result”.

The standard blood test for Lyme disease measures so-called antibodies against the Lyme bacteria. "With a positive result from the antibody test, you don't always know whether the Lyme bacteria infection is taking place right now or whether the antibodies are still present from an earlier, perhaps already healed infection," says Baarsma. This is a downside from the standard blood test. "The cellular tests now being investigated measure the activity of certain immune cells in the blood against the Lyme bacteria. We hoped that the new tests would work better than the current antibody tests. Unfortunately, they do not perform any better." Several commercial laboratories use these tests and there are Dutch people who have their blood tested with them in Germany.

Incorrect test result

Three different groups participated in the study: patients with Lyme disease, healthy people and a group of people with diseases known to interfere with tests for Lyme disease. Freek van de Schoor, co-investigator at Radboudumc: "We examined a number of cellular tests and saw that the new tests often incorrectly indicated that people did not have Lyme disease, while the test subjects actually did have Lyme disease. Or the opposite: the test was positive, but the test subjects did not have Lyme disease at all. In practice, this would mean that a great number of people would receive the wrong treatment based on these test results." Baarsma added: "Of course, we can only say something with certainty about the tests we examined, but our study shows that you have to be careful with the use of blood tests for lyme disease whose reliability is not established. In short, we advise against the use of these tests. And we remain committed to improving the diagnosis of lyme disease."

Research explained in video

Below you can watch the video explaining the VICTORY research into the functioning of the cellular test (in Dutch).

Learn more

Read the publication in The Lancet Infectious Diseases
Read our article titled ‘Preventing Lyme disease with a vaccine’

For questions and answers on lyme disease, please visit (Dutch websites):
Tickbites | RIVM
Lyme Disease Expertise Centre
Tick radar