Posted on Aug 16, 2019, 1 p.m.
Lyme disease is a chronic illness that impacts an estimated 300,000 people within the USA, soon those suffering with the illness could be closer to knowing whether it started off as an American biological weapon or not.
According to United States Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey, longtime advocate for research on the disease, he hopes the knowledge will lead to accountability, greater recognition of the disease, and a potential cure. "My hope is, this jump-starts a very aggressive effort to find a cure and see how this is growing. It’s pushing out into the Great Lakes area. It’s exploding everywhere," said Smith.
Recently a Smith amendment was added to a federal defense bill by the House of Representatives that requires the Department of Defense Inspector General to investigate whether the military experimented with ticks and/or other insects to be used as biological weapons between 1950 and 1975. After investigating a report must be made back to the House and Senate Armed Services committees with details of the full scope of any experiments that it finds, including whether any insects were released into the environment by accident or intentionally.
Currently the amendment was approved by voice vote, the House Bill now has to be reconciled with a Senate Bill that doesn’t include Smith’s amendment, and Smith, who’s district is one of the hotbeds for the disease, is working with the senators to try and ensure that the investigation survives the process intact.
Smith says his push for a federal investigation began after reading "Bitten: The Secret History of Lyme Disease and Biological Weapons," by Stanford University-based science writer Kris Newby. The theory is that Lyme disease was a Soviet era weapon created in an American government research center that was released either intentionally or by accident. However the book furthers the theory by interviewing researcher Willy Burgdorfer who claims to have infected ticks during American military experiments.
This federal probe could resolve questions to the legitimacy of the theory, and if proven correct it may provide ammunition for those with chronic Lyme disease who often face difficulty in getting medical treatment because it is not widely recognized by the medical community.
Finding Lyme friendly doctors is not an easy task as the Infectious Disease Society of America has declined to recognize chronic Lyme disease in its clinical practice guidelines, which leaves those suffering with the disease to travel a hard path with significant battles in finding treatment.
According to Smith "There needs to be significant accountability. This should not be mired in secrecy...The millions of people suffering from Lyme and other tick-borne diseases deserve to know the truth..." Who goes on to add knowing the truth about any experiment could also help researchers reverse engineer a possible cure for the disease, which often gets misdiagnosed for fibromyalgia or other conditions. He also unsuccessfully tried to add a second amendment to the bill that would have created a national strategy for Lyme disease in a holistic approach to be used by federal agencies to combat the disease. Smith’s TICK act federal legislation has been proposed by Smith for over 20 years, and his national strategy could provide $180 million over the course of 6 years for research.
“I think [the congressman’s] state is at ground zero of this outbreak and his constituency has been impacted severely. I hope people can understand weaponized ticks are bad and we need to know what happened at the height of the Cold War bioweapons program," Newby told VICE News.
According to Newby, “...the military realized something they were experimenting on had gotten out.” She mentioned a tick-borne germ called rickettsia, which acts like a virus, involved in hundreds of bioweapons experiments. “Lyme disease plus these other organisms is what’s making people chronically ill,” Newby said. The accident is said to have been covered up until Burgorfer talked to reporters after Lyme disease infected the US Northeast; Burgorfer was credited with discovering the cause of Lyme disease in 1982, but he may have actually put the disease into ticks decades earlier.
“There’s evidence in the U.S. that Lyme disease was here before Columbus came around,” Phil Baker, executive director for the American Lyme Disease Foundation.
“Both the tick and the bacterium that causes Lyme disease are ancient creatures,” said Richard Ostfeld, a Ph.D. in disease ecology at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.
“There is strong scientific evidence that the present-day forms of the [Lyme disease] bacterium diverged from a common ancestor at least 60,000 years ago. The notion that Lyme was created on Plum Island [the government labs in Orient Point, New York] doesn’t represent the real geographic distribution of the disease in recent decades,” said Ostfeld.
Ostfeld does not believe this federal investigation into phased out bioweapons is the right approach to treating the epidemic, “What gets neglected is scientific research in tick control, which would prevent people from getting sick in the first place.”
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