Weaponised what now? [TW: images of ticks]
August 27, 2019 1:42 AM   Subscribe

The US House of Representatives has called for an investigation [Guardian] into whether the spread of Lyme disease had its roots in a Pentagon experiment in weaponising ticks. The House approved an amendment proposed by a Republican congressman from New Jersey, Chris Smith, instructing the defence department’s inspector general to conduct a review of whether the US “experimented with ticks and … insects regarding use as a biological weapon between the years of 1950 and 1975”.

The review would have to assess the scope of the experiment and “whether any ticks or insects used in such experiment were released outside of any laboratory by accident or experiment design”.

If you prefer a different source: here's CNN, CBS, Gizmodo and Fox News.
Bigthink says that maybe there's something to it?
posted by Too-Ticky (48 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
Has there ever been a more apt poster for this?
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:06 AM on August 27 [62 favorites]


The most eponysterical post in the twenty-year history of Metafilter.

Also, the writers of Reality 2019 really need a break. Some of these storylines are just beyond belief.
posted by andreaazure at 2:20 AM on August 27 [33 favorites]


Worse than spiking people with LSD to see what would happen.

Wow.
posted by asok at 2:36 AM on August 27 [3 favorites]


There's a rise in tick-borne infections here in Europe too. I blame the deer. And warmer winters and wetter summers. There is data.

After having been infected twice, I'm really scared of ticks, and I was just this weekend thinking about how I used to play in the woods with bare legs, because I wanted to pick chanterelles but didn't want to wear long pants and socks. Till I was 30 or even older, I had never heard of a human being bitten by a tick - I'd seen them on the dogs and horses, but never on humans. Now we have to check children every time they've been out to play.
posted by mumimor at 2:55 AM on August 27 [14 favorites]


This was developed as a way to slowly sort of irritate the enemy.
posted by geoff. at 3:00 AM on August 27 [13 favorites]


Last month on r/AskHistorians I answered this question about the subject:
Two days ago, the U.S House ordered the Pentagon to disclose if they have ever exposed the public to ticks involved in military research, particularly in the 50s-70s - when Lyme disease first started spreading. What evidence do we have of U.S military involvement with disease carrying ticks?
TL;DR: This is an excellent question to ask to understand the history underlying this effort, almost precisely because it is the wrong question in an interesting and useful way. The classified nature of post-war biological weapons research makes this a difficult question to answer definitively. However, as a microbiologist I think a basic introduction to biological weapons, their conceivable purposes, and their limitations in modern conflicts as well as the history of Lyme disease will help with assessing the credibility of these claims.

For a bioweapon intended for use against warfighters or civilians by a state entity to be conceivably useful it ideally needs to be highly infectious independently of non-cumbersome protective equipment, be highly virulent, have no available vaccines that could be given to enemy military personnel, and be deployable with an effective and efficient delivery system. In this way the weapon can be used as an area denial system, analogous to landmines, to prevent warfighters or ordinary people from occupying or traveling through a location. For use against military targets, each of the factors would be key, as it is relatively straightforward for organized militaries to deploy simple countermeasures that can be remarkably effective against even the most advanced bioweapons. However, the same bioweapons could also conceivably be used for the purposes of inducing mass mortality, terror, and/or mass migration in civilian populations, which are much more complicated to protect, for the purpose of disrupting to enemy morale, production, and logistics.

Ticks on a very fundamental level make profoundly unpromising vectors for bioweapons targeted at humans, and there are not really credible ways in which they could be 'improved' to address their limitations. Even very basic countermeasures like rolling socks over pant legs and self-checks after walking through tick infested areas are very effective and not the least bit disruptive to the effectiveness of military personnel, particularly compared to the measures necessary to protect against the bioweapons available even during WWII. While at the same time, the effective deployment of ticks as disease vectors in an efficient controlled way would be incredibly complicated, particularly compared to the bioweapons available at the time.

It is also incredibly difficult to see how Borrelia, among tick borne infectious agents, could be considered in any way a promising agent for developing it into a weapon. It requires an extraordinary amount of time to infect humans with it, it's effects are very mild and slow acting compared to what you would need for an effective bioweapon, and the vaccine for it was both relatively straightforward to develop and would be trivial to provide to soldiers. For better or worse, both the United States and the Soviet Union perfected the destructiveness of bioweapon technology well past the horrific point where it could ever conceivably be 'improved' with additional lethality in the 70s with a far more terrifying collection of bacteria and viruses. Since then the only work that has been done with bioweapons has been largely limited to countermeasures against them, which idealistically would be for defensive purposes and cynically would only make their deployment more useful.

The insight made in Old Lyme, CT also wasn't the discovery of a new disease, it was making the connection between the symptoms being experienced there and a disease that has been described in Europe since antiquity. There was not anything actually new about the Lyme disease being experienced in the US, what was new was our recognition of what it was. So, given that this whole conspiracy theory is so fundamentally illiterate in weapons development and the history of Lyme disease, how is it that it is so popular? Including now apparently New Jersey Republican Rep. Christopher Smith (R)? The best answer to this question has nothing to do with the history of biological weapons development, and everything to do with the history of alternative medicine.

In the post war era 'orthodox'/'evidence-based'/'academic'/'allopathic'/'modern' medicine gained overwhelming credibility with the general public, along with the new competent authorities regulating their practice of medicine. This was due to its profound and undeniable successes with things like antibiotics and vaccines for infectious diseases, the new surgeries that antibiotics and other discoveries like the Rh factor made possible, and the promise that the discovery of the structure of DNA posed for the understanding of genetic disorders. Importantly however, these successes posed an existential threat to an entire business model that suddenly needed to adapt. Before the end of the 19th century ‘alternative’ medical practitioners who had always presented themselves in opposition to these new heroes of science were arguably were neither better or worse than their more institutionally organized colleagues. It would indeed be surprisingly difficult to argue that they were either more or less evidence-based, or more or less prone to fraudulent business practices, than those who formed the nucleus of what would later become the modern medical establishment. However, as medical doctors professionalized without them and modern pharmaceutical companies developed out of the previously casually fradulent patent medicine industry under pressure from new competent authorities, it became more and more difficult to justify claims that they offered something of value. Wild conspiracy theories like this one serve to not only provide this justification but also to help them select for more gullible patients for all the same reasons why Advance-fee scammers will still openly self-identify as Nigerian princes.

‘Alternative’ treatments for Lyme disease cropped up almost immediately after its discovery in North America as the challenges inherent to its responsible treatment fit the unmet needs being addressed by alternative medical practitioners incredibly well. Lyme disease is complicated to diagnose and it was clear from the beginning that there was a large population of people suffering from the disease who would be difficult to responsibly diagnose. The symptoms experienced were also remarkably diverse, and often difficult to concretely define. At the same time, it was also very quickly clear that while Lyme disease could be successfully treated with one course of an unpleasant antibiotic, the neurological damage caused during the infection (Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome) would sometimes persist in a way that could be easily confused for continued infection. These factors led to the creation of an entire industry of "Lyme-literate physicians” who use an impressive array of bad diagnostics that generally guarantee ‘positive’ results to diagnose patients with 'Chronic Lyme Disease' and then provide them with often debilitating ‘treatments’ that generally continue indefinitely. The bad diagnostics and worthless treatments that these practitioners provide are also generally extraordinarily expensive, leading Lyme disease to get the reputation of a rich persons disease. In studies of patients who self identify as having 'Chronic Lyme Disease' there is generally no reliable evidence that they were ever exposed to Lyme, these patients cluster in areas where Lyme is not present, and the symptoms reported often have no plausible relationship to Borrelia infections. Importantly however, this is not a fake disease and there is no reason to doubt the symptoms of the generally female patients diagnosed with it, whether or not they may be in part psychosomatic in some patients. It is instead more usefully understood as a fake diagnosis, which causes significant harm by mislabelling symptoms in a way that encourages harmful treatments while preventing effective care.

While conspiracy theories like the one in the question are among the central features of their argument for why patients should trust them instead of the medical establishment, it is important to keep in mind that they would not have had so much success if this was all they had to offer. Evidence demonstrates that medical care for serious chronic, hard to define, and psychosomatic illnesses - particularly when patients are women like CLS patients primarily are – is profoundly inadequate. Patients with these kind of illnesses are turning to pseudo-medical professionals in part because they are often the only ones who will listen and appear to take them seriously. This has created the large and highly motivated patient population that Rep. Christopher Smith is responding to.

Further reading:
What happens when [chronic lyme disease] becomes an identity? (Previously)
Carus WS (2017). A Short History of Biological Warfare: From Pre-History to the 21st Century. US Defense Dept., National Defense University, Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction. ISBN 9780160941481.
Marques A. Chronic Lyme disease: a review. Infectious disease clinics of North America. 2008 Jun 1;22(2):341-60.
Hoffmann DE, Tarzian AJ. The girl who cried pain: a bias against women in the treatment of pain. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics. 2001 Mar;28:13-27.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:13 AM on August 27 [401 favorites]


Well that was surprisingly thorough.
posted by Literaryhero at 3:17 AM on August 27 [12 favorites]


Thanks so much, Blasdelb. I started writing a comment full of questions here earlier and had to pause, and came back to find you'd already answered them!
posted by daisyk at 3:20 AM on August 27 [3 favorites]


The call for investigation makes me SO MAD.

My mother and my brother both have had (and are still having) cases of Lyme disease; it clobbered both of them. I also have an aunt and uncle that are prone to falling for a lot of the Facebook rumor-spreading; never anything MAGA, usually health-related. Sometimes I'll respond by posting a link to the Snopes page disproving it. But this came up a month ago and my uncle posted it and tagged my brother. Fortunately my brother had the sense to laugh it off, but I was so mad - how much time might my brother have wasted?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:25 AM on August 27 [11 favorites]


Yeah, I haven't even a fraction of the expertise displayed above, but I do pay a lot of attention to fringe weirdos and bizarre pseudoscience, and my first thought was "I bet a 'chronic lyme' kook is behind this."

Not that I'd put it past the u.s. military to investigate darn near anything for use as a weapon, but as noted, ticks are crap vectors and Lyme isn't much of a killer disease.
posted by Scattercat at 3:28 AM on August 27 [4 favorites]


Flagged as fantastic, Blasdelb. I am frequently on the receiving end of people who have been harmed by "Lyme literate" quacks, either from direct effects of chronic antibiotics or from delaying treatment for whatever illness they actually have. Frustrating as hell, and the added charge of "the Pentagon did it" is going to fire up a whole new crowd of tinfoil-hatted spectators.
posted by basalganglia at 3:37 AM on August 27 [7 favorites]


It is also incredibly difficult to see how Borrelia, among tick borne infectious agents, could be considered in any way a promising agent for developing it into a weapon.

As a practical matter, perhaps. But the DoD has an enormous curiosity about all sorts of things, including insects, and it's not difficult to ascribe weaponization as a motive. In the 1970s, a friend's mother worked as a biochemist at Natick Army Labs. She had a comprehensive collection of live cockroaches. Hundreds of them, from the tiny German guys to monsters the size of small dogs. She wouldn't say why the Army wanted her studying roaches. Ticks may not be an effective weapon system, but the military has a long history of trying to evaluate animals as weapons, including bats, dolphins, fleas and mosquitoes. Because your educated assessment is that ticks would be a useless weapon is not a persuasive argument that nobody at the Pentagon went ahead and authorized an attempt to weaponize them.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:23 AM on August 27 [33 favorites]


To Blasdelb's excellent comment, I will add that disease ecologists have a really good understanding of why Lyme infections in people have been increasing, and it seems to be mostly likely due to a complex mix of increases and changes in host populations (despite the name of the tick, rodents spread it even more than deer) due to both suburbanization and climate change and increases in human/host interactions due to suburbanization. If you're interested, an excellent place to start is with the research of Rick Ostfeld at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.

Among his recommendations is that changes in the way we manage our forests can help manage Lyme. But blaming government and Big Pharma conspiracies is easier than that, so here we are.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:39 AM on August 27 [25 favorites]


Just this guy, y'know: Has there ever been a more apt poster for this?

That's not a coincidence.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:43 AM on August 27 [16 favorites]


"Because your educated assessment is that ticks would be a useless weapon is not a persuasive argument that nobody at the Pentagon went ahead and authorized an attempt to weaponize them."
You are absolutely right that this hypothetical weapons program wouldn't have been the first idiotic thing that either the USAMRIID, or the three letter agencies it works with, would have done - nor would it be the last. I've certainly encoutered less credible military projects with more ridiculous flaws. However, the conspiracy theory's mechanism for explaining this requires an even greater lack of subject matter expertise that is much easier to explain as coming from the dishonest hacks propagating this rather than from brass being quite this dense. This quote comes from Kris Newby's book Bitten in the form of this citation and accompanying a story from an "unnamed CIA source":
On a most discreet (strictly need-to-know) basis, defense is to submit a plan by 2 February on what it can do to put a majority of workers out of action, unable to work in the cane fields and sugar mills, for a significant period for the remainder of this harvest. It is suggested that such planning consider non-lethal BW, insect-borne.1 —Task 33, Cuba Project, in “Top Secret Memorandum,” Brigadier General Lansdale, January 19, 1962
Sabotaging the sugar harvest, which very much was an explicit goal of Operation Mongoose, could be achieved much more readily with crop diseases so long as weapons of mass destruction were on the table. Sugarcane is hilariously vulnerable to a wild abundance of bacterial and viral diseases, some of which belong to genera that had already been weaponized for staple crops. Both the United States and Canada had entomological weapons programs largely focused on mosquitoes as vectors for disease for infecting human targets, and they included much weirder things than cockroaches, but its not really credible to imagine that anything could really have been done to Lyme to actually meaningfully impact its epidemiology much less that some kind of program with ticks got advanced enough to do so.

There are just so many things about this theory that don't even start to add up, and thing is, we they don't even need to for what we see to make sense. As hydropsyche notes, there is no real mystery to why we only started to recognize Lyme for what it was in 70s.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:08 AM on August 27 [41 favorites]


Damn Blasdelb, I've read a fair bit on this subject and could have handwavily bullet pointed my way through a lot of what you said, but I've read stuff written for professional publication that wasn't as clear and succinct as what you wrote.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:21 AM on August 27 [30 favorites]


I've been more interested in wondering about Fall Army Worm, even as it cuts a swathe across food crops in Africa and Asia.
posted by Mrs Potato at 5:28 AM on August 27 [2 favorites]


Blasdelb, I particularly like the distinction you draw between a "fake diagnosis" (which chronic lyme is) and a "fake disease" (which chronic lyme almost certainly is not). Very useful terminology.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:35 AM on August 27 [25 favorites]


Great post title!
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 6:09 AM on August 27


The most eponysterical post in the twenty-year history of Metafilter.

I don't know, porn in the wood's post about porn in the woods is a contender.

The sad thing about this story is that it doesn't even sound that crazy. That's just the sort of stupid thing the Army would do.
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:18 AM on August 27 [3 favorites]


Even aside from whether or not the military released infected ticks, the fact is, at least here in New England, where the disease was first noted, there are simply far, far more deer to serve as a vector. Even here in Boston, largest city in New England, there are deer everywhere - the state recently posted Deer Crossing signs on the parkways in three neighborhoods, deer are now a relatively common sight in the Arnold Arboretum and regular evening commuters on Washington Street in West Roxbury know to be careful because of the deer that now sometimes bound across the street to get back from Bellevue Hill to the Stony Brook Reservation.
posted by adamg at 6:19 AM on August 27 [4 favorites]


But blaming government and Big Pharma conspiracies

The major thing they're both to blame for is dropping the research into Lyme vaccines. Pharma generally hates vaccines anyway, so they get a double portion of bitter blame pie.
posted by bonehead at 6:20 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


No, Lyme disease is not an escaped military bioweapon, despite what conspiracy theorists say by Sam Telford Professor of Infectious Disease and Global Health, Tufts University.

Also be careful with phrases like "the US House of Representatives has called for an investigation". This is an amendment into the the House's version of the annual must-pass National Defense Authorization Act sponsored by only one congressman. It is not included in the Senate's version and will likely be removed during reconciliation.
posted by peeedro at 6:23 AM on August 27 [27 favorites]


I read the article from The Cut linked in Blasdelb's "further reading" section only a couple of days ago, and wondered if it was basically a well-written and -researched subtweet to this NYT Vows column (disclosure: the bride is someone I knew slightly, in the early 2000s, and I read it with HORROR AND GLEE.)

The bride is someone who has definitely monetized her illness in a way that the later article only touches on, but which is this totally bizarre and widespread social media phenomenon.

Thanks, Blasdelb, for a fantastic comment!
posted by Lawn Beaver at 6:31 AM on August 27 [7 favorites]


peeedro, that was an excellent read! Not least because it answered a question I had:
That Burgdorfer alluded to biowarfare or biodefense programs in interviews toward the end of his life should not be construed as an admission of participation in top-secret work. I met Burgdorfer several times and was struck by his wry sense of humor. It’s my guess that his hints that there was a bigger story to what he did for the military was a prankster’s way to toy with the interviewer.

In my own research in architectural history, I have several times found statements that were most certainly meant as jokes when they were made, but have been taken seriously after the person's death with rather terrible consequences.
posted by mumimor at 6:50 AM on August 27 [7 favorites]


mumimor: In my own research in architectural history, I have several times found statements that were most certainly meant as jokes when they were made, but have been taken seriously after the person's death with rather terrible consequences.

I got the same impression while reading the Bible.
posted by clawsoon at 7:00 AM on August 27 [23 favorites]


Blasdelb: this is why I love this site. Fantastic comment- you're an excellent writer

Lawn Beaver: my jaw is hanging open reading that - “It’s crazy to think of someone that ill out of your league, but that’s what I felt" Omg they both sound insufferable
posted by captain afab at 7:25 AM on August 27 [7 favorites]


NYT Vows: Omg they both sound insufferable
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:29 AM on August 27 [20 favorites]


While conspiracy theories like the one in the question are among the central features of their argument for why patients should trust them instead of the medical establishment, it is important to keep in mind that they would not have had so much success if this was all they had to offer. Evidence demonstrates that medical care for serious chronic, hard to define, and psychosomatic illnesses - particularly when patients are women like CLS patients primarily are – is profoundly inadequate. Patients with these kind of illnesses are turning to pseudo-medical professionals in part because they are often the only ones who will listen and appear to take them seriously. This has created the large and highly motivated patient population that Rep. Christopher Smith is responding to.

Thank you for saying this! It really bothers me when people who buy into various alternative medicine things are dismissed as just naive idiots. Often it's just that they have real needs that nobody else is filling.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:34 AM on August 27 [12 favorites]


my Buzzkillington knee-jerk is: how the fuck do we still have people saber-rattling over defense spending? Shouldn't the gun nuts and the conspiracy folks caught up and started demanding demilitarization? Just based on provable, well-reported bullshit? Why don't they mobilize around things like this? I suppose the answer is roughly: they do, but nobody who's anti-military is also unscrupulous enough to exploit the trend into political action. But fr krise sake
posted by es_de_bah at 7:36 AM on August 27


The major thing they're both to blame for is dropping the research into Lyme vaccines. Pharma generally hates vaccines anyway, so they get a double portion of bitter blame pie.

It's worse than that. There was a vaccine, but it was pulled from distribution. A victim of a bungled release, unclear guidance to health care providers (about whom to recommend it to, and how to properly administer the series), and clumsy handling of early antivax outrage.

Since the vaccine was pulled, Lyme incidence has skyrocketed as climate change and warmer weather increases the distribution and reproduction of tick populations.
posted by entropone at 7:41 AM on August 27 [13 favorites]


Is a vaccine for Lyme available in Europe, beyond the influence of US pharma?
posted by Bee'sWing at 8:11 AM on August 27


No vaccine in Europe either. But as I searched for more information, I found this: Can a new Lyme disease vaccine overcome a history of distrust and failure?
posted by mumimor at 8:40 AM on August 27 [3 favorites]


Two Lyme vaccines are under development, but are at least three to five years away.
posted by adamg at 8:43 AM on August 27 [3 favorites]


I read the article from The Cut linked in Blasdelb's "further reading" section only a couple of days ago, and wondered if it was basically a well-written and -researched subtweet to this NYT Vows column (disclosure: the bride is someone I knew slightly, in the early 2000s, and I read it with HORROR AND GLEE.)
Jesus Christ, these insufferably wealthy fucking grift scheisters. Things like the monetized performance of suffering and fake healing on the instagram at the center of it all make me just so angry. Of course she peddles bullshit diagnostics to trap people in hideously expensive 'treatments' while making a show of calling out other bullshit diagnostics, of course the hideously expensive 'treatment' that she peddles comes with incredibly serious unecessary risks for the people she is grifting, of course the dangerous shit she uncritically peddles turns out to somehow maybe cure anything a patient with money might have or be anxious about, of course she compares the author of that fantastic article to Joseph Goebbels, and of course she lacks the self awareness to even see how the Vows column made her look.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:10 AM on August 27 [8 favorites]


From mumimor's artcle, LYMErix, the no longer available vaccine, required 3 shots over 12 months and was only about 80% effective. But it was withdrawn because it wasn't making money. Since people can get Lyme multiple times, I wonder if we're gonna see an effective vaccine. There may be too many strains of the disease.
posted by Bee'sWing at 10:14 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


Bee venom! Useless AND potentially dangerous. My aunt used to do it in the 80s when she was trying every and any damn thing to treat her MS.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 10:20 AM on August 27


I just finished listening to a fantastic interview with the author of Bitten: The Secret History of Lyme Disease and Biological Weapons. She and her husband suffered tremendously from the effects of undiagnosed Lymes disease and she (IMO) makes an incredibly compelling case for this having come out of the DoD, however unintentionally.

Unfortunately it's only available to Patrons of the RNW, but I cannot recommend a better $10 a month to spend.
posted by lattiboy at 10:36 AM on August 27


I haven't read Bitten, but I have read Lab 257. Basically it hinges on the twisted logic that because the government won't admit that they accidentally released bioweapons it's proof that the government released bioweapons. Bitten seems to suffer from the same problem:
Newby’s theory rests on the idea that there would be a complex web of cover ups involving several levels of government and scientists, likely scores of people, and it’s tough to believe. It’s unclear how Burgdorfer might have been involved in all of this—either directly with a release or told to cover one up—because it’s all speculation. Newby concedes in the epilogue: “After five years of research, I wasn’t able to find verifiable documents confirming” a release. “I’m not sure why Willy refused to fully disclose the details before his death. Yet, with his passing, the only way to know the truth is for a whistle-blower to step forward or for a classified report to be released.”
Does bitten address how the B. burgdorferi bacterium was found in ticks collected in 1945 from the eastern end of Long Island and mice collected in 1894 on Cape Cod or in 5,300-year-old ice mummy discovered in the Alps?

Anyway, I think we can blame part of the Lyme disease conspiracy on Silence of the Lambs for injecting Plum Island into the public imagination, as it's offered as a vacation destination for Hannibal Lecter as a reward for helping to catch Buffalo Bill.
posted by peeedro at 11:19 AM on August 27 [8 favorites]


I am currently on a trip through the Alps and just went to see “Ötzi” the Copper Age mummy found in the Alps by hikers in the 90s. There are many fascinating tidbits of information I’ve learned about him (he was a murder victim! He stuffed hay into his shoes to keep his feet warm and wore a bear- (or maybe wolf-) skin hat!) but possibly the most interesting aspect of his discovery is that researchers are studying him as a patient and also sequencing his genome (there may be a dozen or so relatives of his alive today). It turns out that he was predisposed to cardiovascular disease, something that was typically thought to be more modern, and he also carried the Lyme disease bacterium. So it’s been infecting humans for a good while.
posted by tractorfeed at 1:22 PM on August 27 [6 favorites]


From mumimor's artcle, LYMErix, the no longer available vaccine, required 3 shots over 12 months and was only about 80% effective.

Just to note that in general a vaccine that is 80% effective can still be very valuable due to herd immunity. In fact 80% effectiveness isn't that bad. By comparison, the seasonal flu vaccine varies in effectiveness from year to year, but since 2004 has never been more than 60% effective. Other vaccines, like for polio or tetanus, can be much higher, approaching 100% effectiveness, but for highly contagious diseases, even a moderate reduction in transmission can make a dramatic difference in whether an outbreak turns into an epidemic.

In the case of Lyme disease specifically, I don't know how much herd immunity helps, since there is an animal reservoir for the disease, and the human-tick-human route is probably not the main way it spreads. But an 80% reduction in transmissibility is certainly worth having for anyone whose risk of exposure is high.
posted by biogeo at 1:22 PM on August 27 [7 favorites]


Lyme doesn't spread from person to person, at all, and I think human-tick-human must be very unusual. So herd immunity isn't really an issue. I'd still be really happy with a vaccine that was 80% effective, specially for children and old people. (LYMErix wasn't available for children).

Some advice: If you can fence deer out of your yard, it's a really good protection. You will still have mice, but not a lot, and the ticks don't move far on their own. We have a gated yard where the deer don't go, and it's a good place for babies and grannies and generally walking in bare feet without worry. But the deer sleep in our backyard, regardless of the dog's barking, so my gran who couldn't walk much but loved sitting in her warm and quiet garden had several tick-bites and often Lyme in her last years. (The other day I was looking at our apple tree, and I took an apple from the ground and threw it into the tall grass. A deer sprang up from where it was nesting, five meters from me. In spite of the dog jumping around chasing butterflies next to me. Folklore says that in old times, people built where the deer nested because it was sure to be a dry, safe spot).
posted by mumimor at 1:47 PM on August 27 [6 favorites]


Bee venom! Useless AND potentially dangerous. My aunt used to do it in the 80s when she was trying every and any damn thing to treat her MS.

I don't think it has any benefits for MS, but there actually is evidence that bee venom can reduce inflammation, particularly in arthritis. It certainly can be dangerous though.

(Actually, the most evidence-based use of bee venom is immunotherapy against bee stings. My friend is a beekeeper with an allergy to bee venom and he gets those shots every year.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:10 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


I work at Fork Detrick and I used to know some of the people who did biological warfare research. Some of the things they worked on were self-evidently unworkable, which is why the scientists didn't feel bad working on them--they felt they were doing basic epidemiology. I can easily understand how someone could work on tick-borne diseases feeling the same way. However, while it's true the army liked to drop things out of planes, breeding millions of ticks would be inefficient, and the life cycle of the disease organism too complicated to weaponize. Dropping mice or deer out of planes would be messy.
posted by acrasis at 5:41 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


Deer maybe but they could drop mice out of planes the same way they did beavers.
posted by Mitheral at 5:49 PM on August 27


Wow, Blasdelb, thank you so much for that post. You addressed a lot of questions and doubts I've had since a friend of mine (who identifies as having chronic lyme) fell prey to a quack naturopath who has her on debilitating, never-ending, expensive treatments to rid her body of "parasites" "fungus" and "toxin." :\ It's been really hard to watch and figure out how to gently push back on this dude's toxic influence over her without seeming like I disbelieve her illness and pain, which are clearly very real.
posted by Emily's Fist at 6:27 PM on August 27 [3 favorites]


What I wrote was really pretty hyper-focused on the background and nature of the conspiracy theory that people are now getting excited about, but to better understand what your friend has fallen into I'd really recommend:
particularly this article, Maybe It’s Lyme What happens when illness becomes an identity? that was talked about on the blue previously

and also

This episode of Last Week Tonight by John Oliver about bias in medicine
The whole scam works in largely the same way whether its Lyme, Candida, Morgellons, or unnammed "parasites," "funguses," or "toxins" that are serving as the symbolic focal point for the anxiety about symptoms that the grifter addresses with expensive medicine-themed sympathetic magic. The confusing and complex relationship that fake diagnoses of Lyme and Candida have to real ones unfortunately often serve as a gateway to more deeply confused fake diagnoses like it seems your friend has.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:11 AM on August 30 [3 favorites]


Lyme disease has always been my go-to for "I don't think it's a conspiracy, but damned if it wouldn't make a plausible conspiracy." Sometimes shit is just weird without a conspiracy.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:59 PM on August 30


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