Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ticked off for no good reason

As it turns out, Lyme disease was not created as a biological weapon on Plum Island and did not accidentally escape into an unsuspecting population.

Who said it did? For one, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, former Navy underwater demolitions expert, governor of Wisconsin and professional wrestler, real name, James George Janos.

He's quoted on the Web as contending that Lyme disease resulted from biological warfare research on Plum Island, a mysterious little island off the coast of Connecticut.  The actual institution there is the Plum Island Animal Disease Center.  During the Cold War the site was allegedly used to create bio-weapons against domestic animals, like sheep and cattle.

The bacterium that causes Lyme disease

Yes, it's a bit creepy, and having to change out of your clothes and into a special disposable suit, and being required to shower before exiting, adds to the spooky atmosphere.

But, getting back to Lyme disease. 

DNA from the bacterium that causes Lyme disease was recently identified in a sample taken from "Otzi," the remarkably preserved frozen fellow found in the Otzi Valley, in the Alps, a few years ago. 

Otzi is about 4,000 years old. That is, way, way  before Europeans landed on this continent and thousands of years before the construction of the lab on Plum Island. 

However, even if Otzi had never been found, the idea of Lyme disease as a biological weapon is ludicrous. It typically causes flu-like symptoms, a rash, painful joints, and is almost always cured by a week of antibiotics. There is no record of any otherwise healthy person ever dying from Lyme disease.

This is not what you want in a weapon. It's too mild and too easily treated. Treatment calls for nothing more exotic than amoxicillin, a standard, cheap antibiotic. Smallpox, plague,  and anthrax are the kinds of terrifying pathogens that some countries have weaponized.

The Lyme disease pathogen, Borrelia burgdorferi, just wants to live in ticks. The ticks are not affected. The parasite just uses mice, deer, shrews, voles and us, as way stations.

 Nothing personal.  Just passing through, like they've been doing for a long, long time.