The incidence of reported cases of tickborne diseases in the United States has significantly increased in recent years. It is expected to continue to grow as tick species expand their geographical reach and new tick-transmitted pathogens emerge, raising the potential for serious human illness and death. A new strategic research plan from the National Institutes of Health aims to build on — and accelerate — new and existing research initiatives to improve scientific understanding of ticks and the pathogens they may transmit and to develop the necessary tools and strategies to better diagnose, prevent and treat tickborne diseases.
What does an anti-alcoholism drug have to do with Lyme disease? Nothing—until a 2016 study funded by Bay Area Lyme Foundation found a link.
I’m the author of “BITTEN: The Secret History of Lyme Disease and Biological Weapons,” and I’d like to discuss some of the points you raised in your article in “The Conversation.”
First, I heartily agree that the Lyme bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, would be an “unlikely weapon.” This organism reproduces very slowly and it can’t be mass produced in large volumes like other tick-borne agents, such as Tularemia. The evidence laid out in BITTEN leads us to believe that a different organism, likely a rickettsia-viral hybrid, was made more virulent by military scientists and that Willy was asked to cover it up. As with this article, the Lyme bacterium, first described in a journal in 1982, appears to be a convenient misdirection to what the military doesn’t want us to see.
I strongly disagree your statement that “the most important characteristics of a biowarfare agent is its ability to quickly disable target soldiers.” In 1953 the U.S. biological weapons program started weaponizing fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes by infecting them with either lethal or slow-acting incapacitating microbes, depending on the military objective.
The Army explained: “In 1953 the Biological Warfare Laboratories at Fort Detrick established a program to study the use of arthropods for spreading anti-personnel BW agents. The advantages of arthropods as BW carriers are these: they inject the agent directly into the body, so that a mask is no protection to a soldier, and they will remain alive for some time, keeping an area constantly dangerous.” Source: U.S. Army Chemical Corps, “Summary of Major Events and Problems (Fiscal Year 1959),” Rocky Mountain Arsenal Archive.
Burgdorfer, the discoverer of the Lyme bacterium, was a key member of this project team. He worked on weaponizing ticks and teamed up with fellow tick expert James Oliver at the Ft. Detrick bioweapons headquarters to develop ways to mass produce infected ticks so that they could be dropped from airplanes on enemy territory. These claims are backed up by interviews with these scientists, as well as with extensive government documentation from multiple reliable sources, all listed in BITTEN.
You go on to say: “That Burgdorfer alluded to biowarfare or biodefense programs in interviews toward the end of his life should not be construed as an admission of participation in top-secret work.” OK, but read BITTEN to evaluate the strength of the evidence. I filmed Burgdorfer detailing these bug bomb programs and it was no “prank.” He had also made these claim to others over the years. And after my interview, I verified his claims with recently released documents, including a 1962 Memorandum to the NIH Director that says that Dr. Burgdorfer, “was engaged for 3 years on classified projects (Army) from which findings could not be published because of their impact on national defense.”
I have posted many of these supporting documents on a public site, and I look forward to carrying on this conversation, and possibly even adding a new discussion topic to your class on Biosecurity.
Why Is Lyme Disease So Hard to Understand?
In the fall of 1997, after I graduated from college, I began experiencing what I called “electric shocks”—tiny stabbing sensations that flickered over my legs and arms every morning. They were so extreme that as I walked to work from my East Village basement apartment, I often had to stop on Ninth Street and rub my legs against a parking meter, or else my muscles would begin twitching and spasming. My doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong—dry skin, he proposed—and eventually the shocks went away. A year later, they returned for a few months, only to go away again just when I couldn’t bear it anymore.
Once a tick bites you, disease transmission can take days—or minutes. Here’s what to know.
For a tick bite to make you sick, the tick must be attached to you and feeding for a certain amount of time. For some diseases, this can take a day or more. For others, it takes just minutes.
We spoke with experts in tick biology to find out why there’s so much variation, and what you need to know to protect yourself.
Geetha Parthasarathy, PhD, a research scientist at Tulane National Primate Research Center, was one of two researchers awarded a $100,000 grant last weekend at the Bay Area Lyme Foundation’s seventh annual LymeAid event. Parthasarathy received the 2019 Laure Woods Emerging Leader Award, a grant designed by Bay Area Lyme Foundation to be a catalyst for future research, particularly in the areas of Lyme diagnostics and novel therapies.
Lyme disease is a potentially disabling tick-borne infectious disease that is essentially inflammatory in nature, affecting various organs of the body. Parthasarathy’s grant project will investigate the use of novel supplemental therapeutics for the treatment of acute Lyme neuroborreliosis, a nervous system disorder affecting the central and peripheral nervous systems. Parthasarathy discovered that a certain growth factor receptor is activated in brain cells in response to the Lyme disease bacterium Borrelia burgodorferi, and that the activation of this receptor seems to induce inflammation. This grant project aims to determine if growth factor inhibitors, such as those traditionally used in cancer treatment, could reduce that inflammation.
This is of particular importance given that for some individuals certain neurological symptoms can persist even after they are treated for Lyme disease using the typical recommended antibiotic regimen. Currently, there are no additional treatments to offer these patients, who are often in need of additional therapies to combat what is known as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome. Parthasarathy’s grant project is pre-clinical, meaning that the therapy will be tested on tissue samples as opposed to live subjects. If successful, she hopes that this therapy will move on to animal model pre-clinical trials.
“There is not a lot of funding for new therapies to combat Lyme, so it’s wonderful to get support for this project and to be able to try new approaches that can help people return to health,” Parthasarathy said.
Lyme disease is the fastest-growing infectious disease in the nation, newly infecting approximately 300,000 individuals yearly — more than hepatitis, HIV, tuberculosis, West Nile and Zika virus combined. Lyme is acquired after a bite from an infected tick, and often causes severe and complicated health issues that are difficult to treat. Lyme is also difficult to diagnose, and many people with the infection suffer for years without knowing that Lyme is the cause of the deterioration in the health status. Approximately $1 million was raised at the LymeAid event this year, 100 percent of which will go directly to fund scientific research, education and prevention programs for Lyme disease.
Scientists predict the number of people suffering from a little-understood type of Lyme disease could spike to almost 2 million in 2020.
The most common vector-borne illness in the U.S., Lyme disease is caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium, which is spread by infected ticks. Sufferers can have a fever, headache, chills, fatigue, joint and muscle ache and swollen lymph nodes. In many cases, patients experience an erythema migrans rash that can grow up to 12 inches around the area of the tick bite. Around 329,000 cases are thought to occur each year, although the true number of infections is thought to be higher.
In most cases, doctors prescribe antibiotics and the symptoms pass. However, for others the symptoms can linger in what is known as post-treatment Lyme disease (PTLD) or post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome. The condition is characterized by cognitive dysfunction, incapacitating fatigue and chronic pain, according to the authors of a study published in the journal BMC Public Health.
The condition is poorly understood; there is no set diagnosis for it, and treatment is controversial, the authors wrote. The cause is unknown—some believe the bug can disrupt the immune system—and it can take months to recover. Past estimates suggest treatments fail in between 10 and 20 percent of cases, which could cost the U.S. economy up to $1 billion per year.
“Although antibiotic therapy cures most LD patients, a significant proportion of patients continue to suffer persisting symptoms that can derail normal life,” the researchers wrote.
It can therefore be tough to find accurate data on the prevalence of PTLD, and diagnosis can involve ruling out other health problems.
For their study, the scientists drew on several pools of data to create a model to estimate the number of PTLD cases that occurred between 2016 and 2020. That included data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as past estimates of Lyme disease rates, survival rates and examples of treatments failing.
A conservative estimate made by the researchers suggested that 69,011 cases of PTLD occurred in 2016, which will rise to 81,509 cases in 2020. In another model, the researchers accounted for cases rising from the 1980s, combined with treatment failing in 20 percent of cases. The result was 1,523,869 cases in 2016 and 1,944,189 forecast for 2020.
The authors acknowledged that it remains unclear which is the most accurate estimation.
“Nevertheless, our findings suggest that there are large numbers of patients living with LD-related chronic illness,” they wrote. Further research is now needed to create tests to accurately diagnose and treat the condition, raise public awareness and arrive at a conclusive figure on the number of sufferers.
While ticks carrying the Lyme disease–causing bacteria can strike at any time of the year, April through September is the riskiest period. The CDC advises avoiding grassy, brushy or wooded areas where ticks can live and treating clothing with 0.5 percent permethrin products and Environmental Protection Agency–approved insect repellents before going into areas where the bugs might lurk.
The inaugural Lyme Gala 2018 was a moving evening, filled with touching stories and hope for a future without Lyme disease.
The event was a rousing success and we are thrilled to share we raised approximately $1.5 million! The proceeds from the gala benefit both Project Lyme and Bay Area Lyme Foundation’s critical education, awareness, science and research to end the Lyme disease epidemic!
Thank you to our honoree, Bill Ford, keynote speaker, Dr. Neil Spector, singer/songwriter, Dana Parish, The Janes, and the tireless efforts of our co-chairs, gala committee, advisory members, Board of Directors and everyone who attended this special night.
There is lots of exciting work ahead! We are excited to keep you updated regarding our upcoming plans, accomplishments and the impact your gala gift is making in the fight against Lyme. Until then, thank you so much to those who made Lyme Gala 2018 a success.
Tick-Borne Disease Working Group Calls for More Resources for Research, Prevention, Diagnostics and Treatment
“The Tick-Borne Disease Working Group, a federal advisory committee established by Congress in the 21st Century Cures Act, issued its first report today. The report recommends a multi-pronged response to address these diseases that affect more than 300,000 Americans each year.
Top recommendations included increases in federal resources to meet urgent research and patient care needs, such as enhanced surveillance, prevention, diagnostic and treatment options. The Working Group identified the following priorities:
- Improve early and accurate diagnosis and treatment.
- Strengthen national surveillance.
- Understand immunological mechanism (for example, pathogen-host interaction) of immune protection for Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases.
- Develop new rapid and accurate lab tests.
- Develop antibiotic combination and/or therapeutic options for treating acute and persistent illness.
- Encourage the development of strategic plans for tick-borne disease federal investments.
- Dedicate funding to tick-borne diseases and evaluate related activities using performance indicators and clear metrics for success.
- Characterize how tick-borne disease affects U.S. national security, military readiness, and the health and wellness of active duty service members, veterans and their families.”
ASH Press Office. “Tick-Borne Disease Working Group Calls for More Resources for Research, Prevention, Diagnostics and Treatment.” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services