“Ticked off” (Weaponized insects)

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A New Jersey congressman has convinced his colleagues the Pentagon should investigate whether the government once weaponized ticks, thus creating Lyme disease. This twisted tale has a second act in which the insidious insects are loosed and begin spreading the disease throughout the congressman’s home state.

The house unanimously approved Rep. Chris Smith’s amendment and according to Vice, the Department of Defense will investigate “whether any ticks or insects used in such experiments were released outside of any laboratory by accident or experiment design.”

Smith suspects the military may have considered ticks or other insects to be potential biological weapons delivery platforms during the Cold War. The alleged experiments were said to be carried out between 1950 and 1975 on Plum Island, N.Y., near New Jersey. Smith bases this mostly on the contents of Bitten: The Secret History of Lyme Disease and Biological Weapons by science journalist Kris Newby.

The author describes New Jersey as “ground zero of this outbreak,” with Smith’s district being especially hard hit. To be sure, the Garden State has had its share of the disease, including 5,092 reported cases in 2017. In the Vice article, Newby surmises that the military may have focused on rickettsia, a tick-borne germ  that acts like a virus.

But entomology experts say the notion of airborne chemical warfare via parasitic arachnids is inconsistent with history, geography, and science.

“There’s evidence that Lyme disease was here before Columbus,” said,Phil Baker, executive director for the American Lyme Disease Foundation. Besides that, he continued, Lyme disease is not fatal, making it an unlikely candidate for a potential biological weapon.

Richard Ostfeld, who holds a Ph.D. in disease ecology, agreed with Baker that the tick’s long history makes Smith’s conspiracy theory highly unlikely.

“Both the tick and the bacterium that cause Lyme disease are ancient creatures,” he explained. “There is strong scientific evidence that the present-day forms of this bacterium diverged from a common ancestor at least 60,000 years ago.” Also, a mummy found in the Alps and dating back more than 5,000 years showed traces of Lyme.

Not only is the disease not of recent vintage, but it is found throughout the United States, as well as Europe and Asia.

“The notion that Lyme was created on Plum Island doesn’t represent the real geographic distribution of the disease in recent decades,” Ostfeld said.

Smith, however, is hopeful that the investigation will reveal something akin to a 1950s SciFi flick. He further hopes this will lead to a cure and stated, “The millions of people suffering from Lyme and other tick-borne diseases deserve to know the truth.”

The likely truth, however, is that it’s the investigation which is sucking taxpayers dry.

 

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