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Discovery Of The Lyme Disease Agent

Discussion in 'Infections: Lyme, Candida, EBV ...' started by duncan, Oct 12, 2019.

  1. duncan

    duncan Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    This offers a behind-the-scenes look at what went on during the discovery of Lyme. It's written by two of the surviving team members.

    https://mbio.asm.org/content/10/5/e02166-19

    It's cool on a number of levels. It is very detailed. It shares little tidbits like how strain B31 got its name (virtually all Lyme tests in the US are B31 kits). It brings together Lyme, Babesia, and Rickettsia...Anyway, lots of cool stuff.

    This matters for a couple reasons. One potential one ( @chrisb ) is that it seems to me like it may, in part, have been inspired by the book "Bitten", and the Congressional inquiry into the biowarfare history that purportedly involve all three of those biological agents. Of course, it may not. It could simply be coincidental to that investigation and to Kris Newby's book. Either way, if you like to get down into how discovery works with some infectious diseases and parasites, this is a fun read.
     
  2. duncan

    duncan Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    They mention that when first trying to figure out what caused Lyme disease, EIS investigators suspected a virus. What they don't say - at least I didn't see it - it that one of the reasons EIS investigators thought it was caused by a virus is because antibiotics didn't cure enough patients.

    Of course, to this day it still holds true that abx leave too many patients sick, albeit to a lesser degree thx to better abx.
     
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  3. chrisb

    chrisb Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    This is very helpful. There is no reason to suppose that either Bernach or Barbour has anything to hide. They therefore point to further problems about WB's evidence. The detail of Barbour's account shows how helpful it is to still have contemporaneous notes available. It is a pity that WB's notes are missing.

    Bernach says this:

    Willy never found any rickettsia in the hemocytes of I. scapularis ticks, nor were we aware then of the ubiquitous spotted fever group rickettsial ovarial symbiont of this tick, now known as Rickettsia buchneri (30)

    It would be helpful if he were to indicate what is meant by "we" and when he was first made aware. WB seems to have stopped referring to either Swiss Agent or East side agent by 1980. This would seem to suggest that at that time Bernach, his supposed collaborator, was not, at the time, or perhaps, even, after, informed of these developments. That seems a strange way to treat a colleague, but is as might have been presumed.

    Barbour's story about the Steere's leptospire is interesting. Does it display evidence of a faulty memory on the part of WB or something more significant? It is not as if the biography was merely a record of conversations. He was given a transcript and made amendments before approving it. For all we know he might even have had assistance in finalising the document.

    I also thought this comment by Barbour noteworthy:

    Until the late 1981 events described here, there was no research program dedicated to Lyme disease at RML, although the association of Lyme disease with ticks had been established more than 2 years before (45), and RML was the go-to tick-borne disease lab for the NIH.

    When WB told his biographer he had no interest in Lyme was he merely playing with words and relating the official position? Whether or not there was a research program, there seems to have been research.
     
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  4. duncan

    duncan Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    We know he had an interest in Lyme. We also know he was not happy with the CDC/NIH/IDSA stance on Lyme.

    Don't you find the timing of these mini "recountings" somewhat curious, given the release of Newby's book and the resulting Congressional scrutiny? I am wondering how sanitized these histories are.

    I also wonder how this story would unfold if you replace "Borrelia" for "Lyme."
     
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  5. duncan

    duncan Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Maybe so. What about Ft. Detrick and the eight-ball?

    And how could both of these researchers not allude, by name, to the Swiss Agent given that, according to Newby and that other guy whose name I forget, it was considered to be the causative agent of Lyme, or at least it was going to be characterized as such, for a significant time - by both WB and Steere?
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2019
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  6. chrisb

    chrisb Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    I know we know. It is merely a question of whether it was a formal, on the record, interest, or something less official. In any event the Head of the Lab (was he called Phillips?) seems to have been involved also judging by correspondence from Steere.

    I am sure this is done for the benefit of the Congressional scrutiny, but I think one takes it at face value unless clearly evidenced discrepancies are indicated.
     
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  7. chrisb

    chrisb Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Well, we have evidence for the existence of Fort Detrick and the eight-ball.

    I think the name you want is Piller. In fairness to Bernach and Barbour they seem to be stating only what they have first hand knowledge of. It is entirely conceivable that Barbour was not aware of the Swiss agent connection. Bernach should have been, but seems to be saying that he was not. If he wasn't told, he wasn't told.
     
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  8. duncan

    duncan Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Pillar! Yep. Well done!
     
  9. chrisb

    chrisb Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    @duncan Help, please! What does this mean in Barbour's section of the paper?

    In the late 1970s, Lyme disease was beginning to take off in the northeastern United States, as Jorge relates above, but not anywhere close to its level in Utah.

    To an English English speaker that can only mean that levels of Lyme disease were higher in Utah than in the north-eastern states. Can this be true? Is there some idiomatic usage with which I am unfamiliar which would give rise to a different interpretation?
     
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  10. duncan

    duncan Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    I would chalk it up to a mistake. I suspect he was alluding to arthropod diseases in general, e.g. rickettsia, and something got edited out. There is no way Lyme was more prevalent in Utah than the NorthEast US. Not sure I scapularis even existed in Utah back then.
     
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  11. chrisb

    chrisb Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    I suspect that this is correct. There also appears to be a more significant editing error. In relation to the Steere Leptospire, Barbour says this:

    By Willy’s 1993 account, I told him that Steere had talked about a leptospire that had been isolated (11), but that is not my recollection. My first awareness of the connection of a leptospire with Lyme disease was weeks later, as described in the Appendix.

    Unfortunately there seems to be no further mention of this in the Appendix. Probably an intended something was never edited in, or something was edited out and the necessary consequential amendments not made.

    This may seem a minor point, but it is not. It is just about possible that WB might make an error about the discussion, but what has to be considered is what would have flowed from the discussion, or absence of it.

    In one scenario WB and team are aware of Steere's claims from about a week after the discovery of what was to become Bb, and would have acted throughout as though there were uncertainty as to the priority of their own claim, until the official confirmation.

    In the other scenario they discover, weeks later, and in entirely different circumstances, that there is a rival claim. That should have been something of a shock and imprinted firmly on the memory. Had Steere's Leptospire proved to be the same that would have had prior claim. It was discovered in August and made public first. It was not entirely clear what the "Ixodes dammini spirochete" was. It seems to have been intermediate between Borrelia and Treponema. In early correspondence between the team it is referred to as a treponeme. There was room for confusion.

    Could WB's memory really have failed over such an issue? But Barbour's story has the ring of truth, and corroboration.

    Perhaps it is possible that WB did know early about the Leptospire, but from a different source. Moles are an invasive species.

    This all seems to further undermine WB's credibility as a witness of fact. In saying this I do not intend to impugn him. Some people's conditions of employment may insist upon concealment of facts, under threat of sanction.
     
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  12. duncan

    duncan Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    @chrisb, if one were to take the time to make a dot every time there has been something completely new unearthed in the Bb saga, or another inconsistency surface, or a bizarre coincidence....and then try to connect all those dots into a line, that line likely would stretch...well, we're not talking inches, or feet or yards - we're talking miles.
     
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  13. Alvin

    Alvin Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Unable to read it but i think of agent as a celebrity's publicist :woot:
    Lyme certainly is famous :D
     
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  14. duncan

    duncan Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Barbour and Benach's title, @Alvin , but I strongly suspect they are playing on the Willy Burgdorfer double entendre of Swiss Agent, which he used to advance the concept of a rogue rickettsial pathogen, derived from a Swiss Rickettsia species, as the cause of Lyme, while he, by some accounts, was a Swiss repat working in the US (years earlier) as an agent of biowarfare research (for at least a while, reportedly). Actually, there is still another purported "agent" reference, but that's for a different thread. :)

    Of course, agent is often used to indicate a pathogen or its delivery mechanism.
     
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2019
  15. Alvin

    Alvin Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    I don't disagree, but there are so many types of agents, real estate agent, travel agent, cleaning agent :rofl:
     
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  16. duncan

    duncan Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    A gent. :)

    Willy B seemed to enjoy word play as well. It was tempting to write off some of his "wording" to Parkinson's, but I don't know.
     
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