Tuesday, September 3, 2019
Complex subjects, like the provenance of Lyme, are oversimplified into a soundbite and the truth is lost in the noise. The Washington Post does us a disservice.
Sam Telford, in the Washington Post told us that Lyme is not an escaped military bioweapon. The headline is an implicit smirk at the alternative Lyme community said to be steeped in unfounded conspiracy theories. Ant-science. Fits right into the IDSA narrative.
Dr. Telford is a smart guy, a professor of Biowarfare at Tufts University, who has researched the topic for decades. Largely, he is telling the truth. Largely.
Let's listen to his truth. It speaks volumes.
Lyme is an old disease, even ancient. Lyme was found in the 5300-year-old ice man dug up from the permafrost in the Alps – previously published in National Geographic. Lyme infected ticks were found from 1945 and 1896 in the northeast US. Facts.
Ticks (Lyme carrying ticks) were studied during the cold war as a means of transmitting germ warfare. Fact.
Deadly agents, including Tularemia and Q fever – transmitted by the same Ixodes ticks were studied (and continue to be an area of research -- other source).
The double helix of DNA was discovered in 1953. Scientists during the cold war (1950s - 1980ish) lacked technology to modify germs and make them more deadly. Now it can be done.
Germ warfare research was done at Fort Dietrich and Plum Island. Modern Biocontainment procedures were unknown. (Animals and Ixodes ticks were allowed to roam free on the Island, with the belief they could not leave the island -- other sources). It was unknown that seabirds could ferry ticks to the mainland.
Lyme and the coming epidemic was something military researches could not have imagined. The Lyme Bacteria was not discovered until 1981.
The Lyme epidemic cannot be entirely sourced to Plum Island since the epidemic broke out in the Midwest and West Coast at around the same time as Lyme Connecticut. The author does not say that Plum Island didn't contribute to the epidemic.
Willie Burgdorfer participated in tickborne biowarfare research for the US Department of Defense.
Dr. Telford says a few dumb and obviously incorrect things: Willie was just joking with the interviewer about his role in germ warfare research. Plum Island was repurposed for agriculture research in 1954 -- during the height of the cold war. (not a cover story).
And -- the US stopped bioweapon research in 1969 because Nixon said so.
These are the clearly established facts.
In summary: Our government was involved in germ warfare research for years. Some of the research involved ticks and tickborne disease (Q fever, Tularemia). Willie Burgdorfer, whose names is attached to the Lyme agent, B. burgdorferi worked for the government and some of this research was with the same ticks that transmit Lyme disease. Biocontainment procedures were unknown and government scientist did not know the ticks and the unknown pathogen (Lyme) could easily jump across the Long Island Sound to Lyme Connecticut.
It is easy to conjecture the Government unwittingly helped spread the epidemic of Lyme disease to New England as an unexpected consequence of secret germ warfare research. And, it is widely known the Government has a habit of not admitting wrong doing and covering its tracks.
When we say Lyme was not an escaped bioweapon the statement is both true and false. There was no conspiracy to infect Americans with a horrible disease. But is seems likely that an unexpected consequence of tickborne disease bioweapon research on Plum Island was the spread of some Lyme infected ticks to the mainland.
The law of unintended consequences applies and there is much we will never know.
Congress can investigate and it will be a waste of time.