A bill that would protect doctors from license sanctions for prescribing controversial treatments for chronic Lyme disease has passed the Maine House and Senate.

The bill, advocates say, will help patients who now have to seek the treatments out of state.

Lyme is typically fairly easy to treat when detected shortly after a tick bite, with a few weeks of antibiotics required to clear up the infection.

But the disease is often not detected early. People frequently do not know that they’ve been bitten by a tick and Lyme’s signature “bull’s-eye rash” does not appear on many patients.

Untreated Lyme can cause persistent symptoms, such as fatigue and joint pain, but how to treat chronic Lyme is a matter of controversy. Some doctors prescribe long-term antibiotics, but a doctor in Maine who does so could theoretically face sanctions against his or her license because it’s considered a controversial treatment. That’s left many Maine patients to seek treatment in other states.

The other New England states already have similar laws on the books.

There is disagreement, however, on whether Lyme left untreated still leaves bacteria in the body that could be treated by antibiotics.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website notes that most scientists believe the bacteria – even in cases where Lyme has gone undetected – are eventually purged from the body, but long-term symptoms still persist afterward.

But without bacteria present, antibiotics are not helpful and could be harmful to long-term health.

But the federal CDC does not discredit the minority view that in some cases the bacteria hide in deep tissue, and says more research is needed.

Some chronic Lyme patients have told the Portland Press Herald that they sought long-term antibiotic treatment out of state, and that the monthslong treatments have helped them recover from symptoms.

The House voted 106-32 to pass the bill last week, while the Senate approved the measure Monday without a recorded roll call vote.

Gov. Paul LePage’s office did not respond to a question from the Press Herald on whether he will support the bill, which has both Democratic and Republican sponsors.

Paula Jackson Jones, with the Midcoast Lyme Disease Support and Education group, said it is encouraged by the bipartisan support the bill has received.

“The Lyme community has to fight for everything. Nothing is ever easy,” she said.