Citing a rise in Lyme disease cases, Smith asked if there “was any accidental release anywhere or at any time of any of the diseased ticks.”
Of course, there are many natural reasons that Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are on the rise.
For one, as development near areas with wildlife that carry ticks increases, the number of such disease cases also goes up. “Suburban development in these areas has increased the spread of these germs because people, ticks, deer, and tick hosts such as mice and chipmunks are in close contact,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition, a warmer climate is more favorable for disease-carrying insects and arachnids. As climate change leads to longer summers and warmer nights, “conditions might become more hospitable for many carriers of vector-borne diseases,” the CDC wrote.
Smith told The Washington Post he hopes the investigation will better inform what he called a “culture of denial” and that he wants more information about the disease to help those who are sick or may become sick.
“I just wanted to do it with a profound sense of public interest,” Smith said of the amendment.
Smith cited a book, “Bitten: The Secret History of Lyme Disease and Biological Weapons” by Kris Newby, to say government research weaponized ticks in Maryland and New York. The book includes interviews with Willy Burgdorfer, who is credited with discovering the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
Smith calls Burgdorfer a biological weapon researcher. But Michael T. Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at University of Minnesota, said “there’s just no credible evidence,” behind the stories about weaponizing ticks or Burgdorfer’s involvement with such a project.
Osterholm, who knew and worked with Burgdorfer, said the conspiracy theories surrounding the scientist have no basis in fact. The disease wasn’t even truly discovered and named until 1977, when two women in Old Lyme, Conn., reported symptoms of arthritis. Thus, the name of the disease emerged. It was Burgdorfer who was able to identify the bacteria that caused it.
“This is again another one of those unfortunate situations where the science fiction of these issues” overwhelms the truth, Osterholm told The Post.
As deer population in the Northeast increased after the Great Depression, Osterholm said the instances of Lyme disease also went up. He said it’s likely Lyme disease had long existed in deer and that as they increased in population, they spread more Lyme.
Osterholm said that ticks would be an ineffective biological weapon and that there are much more effective options.
The idea that the government does experiments on animals and insects is not so far-fetched; the Pentagon has studied whether insects could carry viruses to make genetic modifications to crops, and the Navy even trained combat dolphins for finding bombs underwater. There’s just not evidence a bioweapon-tick project was one of them.
About 300,000 people in the U.S. contract Lyme disease each year, with a wide range of symptoms that are, unfortunately, not specific to Lyme, which makes it difficult to diagnose. Fever, dizziness, muscle and joint pain, and headaches are only a few of the possible things one could experience if they contract Lyme disease, according to the CDC.
And the supposed telltale sign, a rash at the bite location that looks like a target, doesn’t always show up. Or the tick bite might have occurred on a part of the body that can’t even be seen — such as on the scalp.
The increase in cases, wide range of symptoms and difficulty of diagnosis (there is no single simple test) have increased Lyme-disease anxiety over the past couple of decades. The possibility that it’s surging because of a government experiment run amok has not done anything to soothe people’s fears.