Mistrust, unclear test results, differing guidance all part of Lyme puzzle

Jan. 28, 2020

Every year, 300,000 Americans are diagnosed as having Lyme disease, caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria and transmitted by a bite from blacklegged ticks. The number of cases has risen each year since the disease was first identified in the mid-1970s in Lyme, CT.

But unlike other diseases, time has not provided crystal clarity in diagnosing the disease nor certainty in treating it. And Lyme has been wreathed in suspicions by patients and an at-times confusing clinical course.

This summer the conversation surrounding Lyme reached a new boiling point when a decades-old conspiracy theory—that Lyme was created by the U.S. military as a bioweapon—resurfaced in a new book, Bitten, authored by a woman who contracted the disease. In July, Rep Christopher H. Smith, R-N.J., asked Congress to investigate the Department of Defense to see if Lyme disease is the result of a U.S. military experiment.

Though the theory has been widely disputed by experts who have genetic evidence the bacteria predates that claim, its mere suggestion hints at the contentiousness that surrounds Lyme.

Sam R. Telford III, PhD, professor of vector-borne infections and public health at Tufts University, has published several op-eds this summer detailing, in careful terms, just how and why the Lyme as bioweapon conspiracy is fiction.

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