Lyme Disease: A Biological Weapon Gone Awry

Health Tips / Lyme Disease: A Biological Weapon Gone Awry

Prepare yourself for a genuinely frightening Health Tip. I bought Bitten: The Secret History of Lyme Disease and Biological Weapons, by investigative reporter Kris Newby, this past Saturday at 10 am and finished it at 8 pm. It reads more like a thriller than non-fiction and is chilling in its implications.

First, some background: The tickborne infectious illness Lyme disease was first reported in 1975 among a cluster of children in Old Lyme, Connecticut. Joint pain was the predominant symptom and the condition was originally mistaken for juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

Six years later, a research biologist, Willy Burgdorfer, whose specialty was tickborne disease, discovered that a bite from a deer tick that transmitted a specific bacterium of the Borrelia family was the cause of Lyme disease. The bacterium was named Borrelia Burgdorferi in his honor. (Today there are a slew of other tickborne illnesses in different bacterial families, some of which are quite dangerous.)

Burgdorfer was a Swiss citizen who had been invited to the US in 1951 to join a team that was developing vaccines and medications against diseases spread by insects. He was employed by the US Public Health Service (renamed the National Institutes of Health/NIH) at the Rocky Mountain Lab in Montana. Their goal was to create vaccines against the many diseases spread by insects to humans.

Burgdorfer also worked at Fort Detrick in Maryland, the US center for the development of biological warfare.

Ticks as weapons
However, in 1955 Burgdorfer’s job changed. From then until President Nixon signed a bill banning chemical and biological weapon development in 1969, Burgdorfer was very much involved in using ticks as weapons. He learned how to use hair-thin glass tubes to force feed numerous disease agents to ticks, diseases you’ve probably never heard of, like Q fever, leptospirosis, and typhus.

The lab could breed ticks by the millions. Frequently, researchers released tens of thousands of disease-free ticks tagged with radioactive markers like carbon-14 to determine how they spread through a population.

Because the first Lyme cases had been reported in such a relatively small area of the US, some epidemiologists felt this clustering had all the earmarks of a biological accident. And although biological weaponry had been banned six years earlier in 1969, Burgdorfer himself felt that the Lyme disease outbreak was somehow related to a bioweapons release, either by accident or via theft from the NIH by a foreign power.

Chilling note left after dying
When Burgdorfer died in 2014, among his papers was a sticky tag that read “I wondered why somebody didn’t do something. Then I realized that I am somebody.” He might have been a whistleblower, but when it was also revealed he had Swiss bank accounts with balances far exceeding his government salary, it was speculated that he’d been paid to remain silent.

A scenario like this sheds some light on facts that people with Lyme and the physicians trying to treat them ultimately discover for themselves.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) deliberately undercounted the number of new Lyme cases for decades, calling it relatively uncommon at their estimated 30,000 new cases a year. Only recently was that number increased by a factor of ten: to 350,000 new cases annually compared to 268,000 new cases of breast cancer and 40,000 new cases of HIV, both far more generously funded than Lyme.

Many infectious disease specialists confidently said that Lyme was easy to treat with two weeks of antibiotics. They completely denied the consequences of undertreatment and the chronic illness that might follow. They referred to chronic Lyme disease as a pseudo-illness and encouraged state medical boards to shut down the practices of physicians who test for chronic Lyme and treat it. The chronic Lyme Wikipedia article is clearly being written by the same people who write for Quackwatch.

When we at WholeHealth Chicago began seeing so many patients with chronic Lyme disease, we were told stories of how they were disbelieved by other doctors and written off as neurotic. When I telephoned on old friend who had become an infectious disease specialist, he said, “David, there is simply no such thing,” adding “I’ll send you all of my ‘chronic Lyme’ patients.” Happily, we at WholeHealth Chicago have a team of practitioners to deal with the increasing numbers, but I’m constantly mystified as to why most physicians can’t care for people with chronic Lyme themselves.

On the plus side, the first thoughtful and intelligent article on chronic Lyme coming out of a major medical center is this 2018 one from Harvard. I’ve waited for years for an article like this.

The US government, either in a state of denial, or wanting to avoid adverse publicity, until very recently devoted almost no money to Lyme research.

The 11,000-member Infectious Diseases Society of America remains adamant about the non-existence of chronic Lyme. Fortunately, the International Lyme and Associated Diseases (ILADS) group was created to provide educational meetings for Lyme-literate doctors and support for people with Lyme.

The clear takeaway from Bitten is that our current worldwide Lyme epidemic originated in US government laboratories, the organism named after a researcher whose specialty was using ticks as biological weapons.

As I mentioned in a recent Health Tip, the rapid increase in the infected tick population is attributed to climate change as described Mary Beth Pfeiffer’s recent book Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change.

And finally, on a positive note, just six weeks ago, the CDC acknowledged that we’re all in serious trouble with tickborne illnesses. Let me assure you I was not surprised. After 44 years of government and professional denial you now have been “officially” warned.

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD