The Real History of Lyme
Lyme disease MSIDS was “officially” discovered by
the western medical community in 1975, when Polly Murray from Lyme, Connecticut, contacted the Department of Health
Services due to the strange illnesses her children were experiencing combined with a long list of other families
experiencing similar symptoms. Near the same time Judith Mensch, from Old Lyme Connecticut, unknown by Polly and
acting independently took the same steps after noticing strange physical and mental ailments affecting her children
and neighbors (adults and children.)
Although at first glance it was thought to be
juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, the health officials, concerned by the strange combination of symptoms – rashes,
headaches and swollen joints – sent the women to consult with physicians from Yale University.
The group was investigated by Dr. David
Snydman, Dr. Allen Steere , and Dr. Stephen Malawista who initially
misdiagnosed the children with juvenile arthritis, and owing to the less than textbook nature of the illness
called it “Lyme Arthritis”.
The original study involved a
total of thirty-nine children and twelve adults, from a much larger list compiled by both women. Polly Murray, in
her book published in 1996 “The Widening Circle: A Lyme Disease Pioneer Tells Her
Story” says that sadly many of the symptoms they reported back in 1975 are just now
being examined. But at the time, there was a feeling of relief after so many doctors shook their heads and sent her
away without a clue to what was slowly destroying the health of her family.
Meanwhile, as time went by,
the doctors observed that the children’s first symptoms typically started during the summer, the height of tick
season. Several children reported having a skin rash just before developing the “Lyme Arthritis”, and many of them
recalled being bitten by a tick where the rash appeared.
By the close of the decade,
many new symptoms were being added to the original swollen joints, and the doctors quickly expanded the diagnosis
from “Lyme Arthritis” to “Lyme disease”, in order to help physicians diagnose patients.
In 1980, researcher Willy
Burgdorfer, a researcher and expert in spirochetal diseases at Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) in Hamilton,
Montana, along with his colleague Alan Barbour, M.D. from the University of Texas Health Science Center
stumbled upon the causative agent for Lyme disease while studying a large number of ticks in an effort to determine
the cause of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
searched the ticks for rickettsiae (the bacteria that causes Rocky Mountain Fever), Burgdorfer noticed
“poorly stained, rather long, irregularly coiled spirochetes.” In many of the samples. Further examination
revealed spirochetes in 60% of the ticks.
"On the Trail of a Ticking Time Bomb" from SUNY's own
Dr. Burgdorfer and Dr. Barbour
continued to study this spiral-shaped bacteria, or spirochete, from infected deer ticks, and in November 1981, the
two scientists further discovered that the spirochete caused both the symptoms of Lyme disease MSIDS and the
strange bulls-eye rash called erythema migrans
By 1982 the spirochete was
officially named Borrelia burgdorferi in honor of Dr.
Burgdorfer’s role in its discovery.
SPREAD OF LYME
The disease was quickly
determined to be spread through the bite of a tick – specifically the “Ixodes scapularis” (deer tick) - a
hard shell species, and the disease rapidly spread throughout the Northeast.
Initially it was thought that
the eastern white footed mice were the primary “reservoir” animal – an animal that infects the ticks that feed from
them. It is now agreed that squirrels and birds (even lizards) can also be reservoir animals.
The reason deer are associated
with the spread of Lyme is not because ticks get infected from the deer, but that they attract thousands and
thousands of ticks as a source of blood and for mating. A deer, even in winter, can travel miles in a day and
will pick up and drop tick all along its journey. Ticks may not become infected with Borrelia while feeding
from a deer but that doesn’t mean it won’t contract another infection or parasite.
Any animal can act as a
transportation system moving infected ticks far from their point of origin.
Numerous studies have been designed to
investigate possible roles wild birds might have in the maintenance of Lyme disease enzootic cycles in nature and
for the expansion of endemic ranges. Lyme disease is a multisystem and multi-stage infection caused by three
species of tick-borne spirochetes in the
B. burgdorferi sensu lato genogroup. These include
B. burgdorferi sensu stricto (North America and Western Europe),
Borrelia afzelii (Western Europe, Central Europe, and Russia), and
Borrelia garinii (Europe, Russia, and Northern Asia).
In North America, including Canada, Lyme
disease is perpetuated by a cycle involving rodents, such as white-footed mice, and is transmitted to humans and
other animals primarily by black-legged ticks
Ixodes scapularis in the northeast and Rocky Mountain
Spotted tick in the north central U.S. and
Ixodes pacificus in the West.
Two important features of the epidemiology of Lyme disease
in the U.S. have been the continuous geographic spread of the tick vector and temporal increase in reported cases
within endemic areas over the past two decades.
Surveys of ectoparasites of birds reveal that ticks commonly
infest a wide range of species, especially thrushes, sparrows and other ground foraging birds. Ticks are
usually found attached to the thin skin around the eyes and ears, and on the head – areas that are difficult for
the bird to preen. Tick infestation of some birds can be substantial.
Although a wide range of tick species have
been reported to parasitize wild birds,
Ixodes spp. are the most likely to carry
B. burgdorferi. Other species of ticks, occasionally test
B. burgdorferi, but the significance of these findings
continue to grow.
More than 300 species of birds breeding in the United
States and Canada spend the winter in the West Indies, Central America, or South America.
These long-distance migrants travel hundreds to thousands
of miles from their breeding grounds to wintering ranges.
An extreme example of long-distance migration is the
Arctic Tern. The intercontinental trip from its circumpolar nesting site to its winter destination at the
Antarctic pack ice is over 10,000 miles long and takes several months to complete.
Preparation for such long trips varies depending on the size
of the bird and the length of trip. Birds depend on increasing their nutritional intake to provide energy reserves
as stored fat. This is particularly crucial for species like the Blackpoll Warbler, which breeds in the boreal
forests of Canada and makes a non-stop flight of 2,500 miles to spend the winter in South
Most long-distance migrants make a series of shorter
flights, traveling at night when the air is cooler and the atmosphere is generally calmer. Days are used to rest
and replenish energy reserves.
Stopovers at these “staging areas” are important from the
viewpoint of Lyme disease because they provide the opportunity for picking up different species of ticks at
different resting stops along the way.
Certain family groups of birds such as geese, swans and
cranes use well-established migration corridors through North America. These include the Atlantic, Mississippi,
Central and Pacific flyways. Geese, in particular, take their time making their trip and are usually found to spend
time in the Northeast, most endemic part of the country for Lyme disease.
These routes are oriented north to south in part because
wintering areas are generally located south of breeding sites, but also because the mountain ranges, coasts and
major river valleys of North America run in a similar direction.
It is interesting to note that many migrating birds in
Europe and Asia travel in a more east to west fashion, which correspond to major coastlines and other
So it is actually dangerous to oversimplify the huge
variable that these different migrations have on the spread of Lyme disease in particular.
Several aspects of long-distance migration can contribute to
whether certain migratory birds are more or less likely to host ticks on their cross-oceanic
For instance, birds that over-winter in the rainforests of
Central and South America inhabit (during their visit) the greatest biodiversity on earth. This may partially
explain why ticks that are normally found there are showing up in unexplained parts of the world now, and infected
with diseases that were never seen in those places.
However, it can also represent increased risk for exposure
to the abundance of reservoir hosts and all types of pathogens that prosper and abound in the
The year-to-year variation in the movement of certain bird
species is highlighted by vagrant migration, an episodic “invasion” into areas that are greatly beyond the
During migration, this is sufficient time for some birds
to travel hundreds or even a few thousand miles before ticks complete feeding and drop off. An example of the
capacity for wild birds to carry Lyme disease infected ticks long distances was part of a molecular
epidemiologic study which provided evidence of trans-hemispheric exchange of Lyme disease infected ticks by
seabirds from colonies in both the southern and northern hemispheres.
Overall, dispersal of Lyme disease infected ticks
along migration routes is considered to be an important mechanism for the establishment of new areas of
Another important area of investigation has been attempts
to determine whether or not birds might serve as reservoir hosts for
B. burgdorferi. Spirochetes have been isolated from the
blood of numerous bird species.
The history of Lyme disease
really begins many decades before the doctors from Yale were called to Lyme Connecticut.
Many feel that without the
persistence of Ms. Murray that it would have taken many more years before the disease was discovered, however, the
same symptoms had been studied and documented two decades before Ms. Murray first called the
Dr. Edgar Grunwaldt, a
practicing doctor on Shelter Island at the eastern end of Long Island, is credited by students of medical history
to be the actual discoverer of Lyme disease. And just as Lyme disease was first known in Connecticut as “Lyme
Arthritis, on Long Island a perplexing swollen knee made its debut in the early 60’s called “Montauk Knee”, once
again named after the geographical town it was first diagnosed.
The leading authorities at
that time were such a small group they couldn’t help but turn to each other as each new and frustrating symptom or
differing responses to treatments occurred with various patients. Following are some of the pioneers in this
originally from John Hopkins, who treated the swollen knees with penicillin (evidently he thought that the rashes
occasionally mentioned were from spider bites);
Shelter Island who focused on the rash and contributed a lasting contribution to the study of Lyme disease from his
vast collection of ticks and hundreds of blood samples from patients;
one of the early researchers in Lyme disease, and continues to be a major contributor to cutting edge
research at SUNY in Stony Brook with Dr. Luft. In 1981, Dr. Benach, then at the New York State Health
Department, and Edward Bosler, Ph.D. collaborated in the dogged and dangerous work of gathering and testing
ticks for disease-causing pathogens from Shelter Island on behalf of Dr. Willy Burgdorfer. (Read
Dr. Benach also developed the initial
laboratory test to detect the presence of antibodies to Borrelia burgdorferi,
an ELISA test
that became the original diagnostic test for Lyme disease. He continues to work with Lyme disease at the
Center for Infectious Diseases, Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Stony Brook University.,
and recently has begun to investigate organisms
that could be used as bioterrorism agents, specifically a
bacterial agent of tularemia.
pathologist from Yale who collaborated extensively with Dr. Alan MacDonald in the early
years. In Dr. Paul Duray's career, he single
handedly expanded the number of types of Lyme disease to
disease related to Parkinson's
disease related to infections
within the uterus, some resulting in fetal deaths,
disease related to
disease related to fasciitis which
causes inflammation of
the fascia, which
is the connective tissue surrounding muscles, blood vessels and nerves,
disease related to cystitis,
disease related to the sometimes fatal cases of Adult Respiratory Distress
disease related to acute inflammation of
the spleen sometimes fatal,
disease causing hepatitis,
Dr. Duray also published many landmark
manuscripts which redefined and enlarged the medical and scientific understanding of Lyme disease and resulting
pathologist in South Hampton developed a method for diagnosing spirochetes in vitro using a darkfield microscope,
and he was very generous helping other researchers to review bloodwork while devoting hours to researching Borrelia
and later the effect of Borrelia on stillborn babies and SID babies that were loaded with spirochetes in each case.
After a long hiatus in Texas, Dr. MacDonald returned to Long Island where he gathered evidence to show 70% of
Alzheimer’s brains were loaded with Lyme disease. Dr. MacDonald remains active in research and the invention of
research tools that have been immeasurable in their contribution to helping doctors and scientists understand the
the reigning Lyme doctor in New York for decades until he turned to research due to harassment from the medical
field after successfully treating thousands of patients from all over the world. (Although he was taken to court,
he never lost his license to practice.) He moved to Long Island at the beginning of the
‘80s from Nebraska and is still publishing his treatment guidelines which he shares at no charge. Thankfully
Dr. Richard Horowitz collaborated extensively with Dr. Burrascano while he was a practicing physician, and
now Dr. Horowitz has successfully treated over 12,000 people from around the world as of 2014. Together they
are an active force around the world teaching doctors and helping to bring common sense to the medical
debate. See MEDICAL CONTROVERSY.
began his research in 1986 by collecting samples from around the world of various species of
the Lyme disease bacteria, Borrelia. As a professor of medicine at Stony Brook University Hospital,
Dr. Luft first became interested in investigating Lyme disease after “witnessing a lack of effective diagnostic and
treatment options for patients.” He and his colleagues had
been on the trail of the mysterious
Lyme disease for years, trying to discover why some people were affected by symptoms that
lasted a few weeks while others developed a full-blown infection that attacked multiple organs and body systems
that could cause decades of worsening symptoms and even death.
Initial studies showed
that some forms of Borrelia cause only a skin rash, while
others are much more serious going into the blood stream and spreading to organs, into the central nervous
system and throughout the entire body.
At first, Dr. Luft determined that Borrelia
burgdoferi needed to have its very complex DNA broken down and each part labeled
to identify which Lyme strains are the most virulent in different geographic regions,( because our current
FDA-approved Lyme tests only look for one of 120 known strains in the US.)
This was a huge undertaking for just one strain given that
the DNA possesses 1800 proteins in all. Joining Dr. Luft was immunologist Steven Schutzer, Dr. Clair Fraser,
a world leading genomist from The Institute for Genetic Research and Dick Smith another world-class star in
proteomics. These top researchers along with others mapped not only one strain but dozens with more on the
way (See “Genome Mapping” Below.)
Dr. Luft is also known for his
in proving that Borrelia miyamotoi is actively infecting Americans when two decades ago it was only
known to exist in Japan and Russia. Mainstream doctors have only accepted this since late 2013 in spite of the
availability of evidence to the contrary since 2001 (see the CDC website
Another exciting and successful project for Dr. Luft and his team is the development of an effective vaccine. Dr.
Luft found that one of the main difficulties in creating universally effective tools to combat Lyme disease is the
variety of Borrelia species, each with different protein coats. So in collaboration with scientists at Brookhaven
National Laboratory (BNL), Luft set out to create a vaccine that would be effective on all strains of Borrelia.
Through the use of BNL’s synchrotron facility, scientists were able to solve the structure of the most abundant
outer surface protein of Borrelia.
Using this structure as a scaffold, Luft and his team bioengineered a unique protein that encompasses different
parts of the various Borrelia species. Essentially, using the protein structure as a template, he could swap
out the proteins that varied in other species into the template to create a new protein that did not exist in
nature. Then these engineered proteins have been developed into a vaccine that has now been licensed to Baxter
International Inc., a U.S. health care company which has already succeeded with the first phase of two
clinical trials in Europe, and is showing safety and efficacy.