The History of Lyme Disease

Many people know that Lyme disease takes its name from the town where it was first “discovered” – Lyme, Connecticut.  What many people do not know, is that Lyme disease is believed to have been active worldwide for many centuries, as evidenced by ancient medical texts, and even genetic analysis of rodent pelts preserved in museums.

Lyme disease was officially discovered by the western medical community beginning in 1975, when a group of anxious mothers living in Lyme, Connecticut contacted public health authorities due to a rash of cases of joint inflammation in numerous children in their community. Thirty-nine children and twelve adults were studied by researchers at Yale University, and given a diagnosis for their mysterious ailment – “Lyme Arthritis.”

Eventually the bacteria, a spirochete similar to syphilis, was isolated in 1982 by researcher Willy Burgdorfer – an expert in spirochetal diseases – and was named “Borrelia burgdorferi” (Bb).  The disease was quickly determined to be spread through the bite of a tick – specifically the “Ixodes” species of tick.  As new cases continued to appear, health officials fought hard to find a treatment to kill the bacterial infection.  Additionally, it was imperative to strengthen the patient’s immune system and alleviate the painful symptoms.

As the disease continued to spread, The Center for Disease Control (CDC) became involved and attempted to compile a standard for measuring the “epidemic.”  Although their position paper clearly states that Lyme Disease is diagnosed by symptoms, using blood tests for support of diagnosis, the collection of statistics uses only those patients who have a certain level of antibodies in their blood, ignoring the presence (or lack) of symptoms. That fact -along with the long and difficult reporting for doctors, leads to gross under-reporting.

Dr. Jonathon Edlow at Harvard Medical School claims that actual numbers could be 10 times higher than the numbers the CDC publishes.  Other sources place the number much higher due to hundreds and thousands of people who are misdiagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, MS, chronic fatigue and even Lou Gherig’s disease, along with those patients who have symptoms outside the CDC targeted vectors. Some estimates approach 300,000 new cases per year, but the total national count is unknown.

There are 850 tick species, and approximately 100 can transmit disease. It is no wonder that Lyme is now a world-wide disease.


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