The story of Lyme disease is quite interesting, and new discoveries keep challenging what scientists and doctors thought they knew.
Discovery and identification of Lyme disease
In the mid-1970s, a group of children in Lyme, Connecticut, started having strange symptoms similar to juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. This caught the interest of Dr. Allen Steere, a rheumatologist at Yale University, who started a study to investigate the cause of these symptoms.
Dr. Steere and his team conducted extensive research on the affected children and noticed a common thread – many of them had been bitten by ticks. This led them to suspect that the symptoms might be related to tick bites. In 1977, Dr. Steere published a seminal paper describing the clinical features of what he called ‘Lyme arthritis.’ The condition is now known as Lyme disease.
Around the same time, two other researchers, Dr. Willy Burgdorfer and his team, were studying a mysterious disease affecting cattle in the town of Lyme. They discovered a peculiar bacteria in the midgut of ticks collected from the area. This bacteria was later named Borrelia burgdorferi, after Dr. Burgdorfer, and was identified as the cause of Lyme disease.
Dr. Burgdorfer’s discovery was groundbreaking because it provided a clear link between tick bites and Lyme disease.
Overall, the discovery and identification of Lyme disease involved the collaborative efforts of researchers like Dr. Allen Steere, who recognized the clinical manifestations of the disease, and Dr. Willy Burgdorfer, who identified the bacteria responsible for the disease.
Their contributions have been instrumental in advancing our understanding of Lyme disease and developing effective diagnostic and treatment strategies.
In recent years, scientists found that Lyme disease has been around for thousands of years and even discovered in a 5,300-year-old mummy. In 2017, a team of researchers at Yale University found that Borrelia burgdorferi has been circulating in the United States for over 60,000 years, predating human life on the continent!