History

Lyme was discovered in the town of Old Lyme, Connecticut, where scores of people and children were coming down with rashes, swollen joints and other serious symptoms and was referred to as Lyme Arthritis. Most of the kids who were infected often played in wooded areas. One thing that all the scientists found that was in common was blacklegged ticks. Now, in the 1980’s, Willy Burgdorfer was looking at ticks from Long Island that were suspected of causing spotted fever and other diseases caused by ticks. After moving to Hamilton to pursue his distinctive specialty, a meticulous surgery which he liked to call ‘tick surgery’, which was taking a tick and dissecting them to see what diseases it had, when he stumbled upon a spirochete, a corkscrew shaped disease causing bacteria in the so called midguts, which he had studied in grad school. This type of spirochete was of the genus Borrelia, which caused Lyme. He had not been working on this, but had been speaking with one of the doctors who helped discover it, Dr Allan Steele. He soon realized that the bacteria in the Long Island ticks might be in the deer ticks that were causing problems in Connecticut. Deer ticks around that time were not known to carry spirochetes, but more testing would eventually prove him right, and his findings were published in the journal Science. Burgdorfer had also said that his discovery was serendipitous- an accident that might have happened only to someone with more than thirty years of tick surgery experience. In his honor, the bacteria that he discovered, was named after him and was called Borrelia burgdorferi.

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