Pentagon pressed for answers on Lyme, other tick-borne diseases common in Rapp
The U.S. House of Representatives this past week passed an amendment offered by Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey directing the Pentagon’s Inspector General to investigate the “possible involvement of DOD biowarfare labs in the weaponization of Lyme disease in ticks and other insects” from 1950 to 1975.
Smith said he was “inspired” to write the amendment — now part of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act — by “a number of books and articles suggesting that significant research had been done at U.S. government facilities including Fort Detrick, Maryland and Plum Island, New York to turn ticks and other insects into bioweapons.
“With Lyme disease and other tickborne diseases exploding in the United States — with an estimated 300,000 to 437,000 new cases diagnosed each year and 10-20 percent of all patients suffering from chronic Lyme disease — Americans have a right to know whether any of this [Defense Department involvement] is true,” Smith said.
If so, the lawmaker wants to know if there ever was any accidental release at any time of any diseased ticks or were any ticks released by design?
Ninety-five percent of all confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the United States stem from just 14 states, Virginia ranked among them. Rappahannock County has been an absolute bullseye of Lyme cases in the commonwealth and new infections here remain extremely high, as they also are now around Roanoke and Blacksburg.
Virginia counts 17 species of ticks, including the newly discovered Asia longhorned tick that prefers latching on in mountainous and cattle-raising areas. The Virginia Department of Health warns that this new arrival could transmit everything from Lyme to spotted fever rickettsiosis.
As Congressman Smith pointed out, the most recent book “Bitten: The Secret History of Lyme Disease and Biological Weapons,” includes interviews with Dr. Willy Burgdorfer, a bioweapons specialist and researcher who is credited with discovering Lyme disease. Those interviews, combined with access to the doctor’s lab files, suggest he and other bioweapons specialists “stuffed ticks with pathogens to cause severe disability, disease — even death — to potential enemies,” said Smith.
“My amendment tasks the DOD Inspector General to ask the hard questions and report back,” he continued.
Smith said the investigation would explore such questions as what were the parameters of the program and who ordered it? Also, did the program contribute to the disease burden, and if so can any of this information help current-day researchers find a way to mitigate these diseases?
In addition, Smith is the author of the pending bipartisan, bicameral TICK Act (HR 3073) introduced earlier this year to create a whole-of-government national strategy to aggressively fight Lyme disease. The TICK Act authorizes an additional $180 million to boost funding for Lyme research, prevention and treatment programs.
A founding co-chair of the House Lyme Disease Caucus, along with Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the Republican said the bill provides $60 million over five years to reauthorize the Regional Centers of Excellence in Vector Borne Disease. The bill also authorizes new CDC grants for a total of $120 million over six years, to build a public health infrastructure for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.
Just last month, the House adopted two other Smith amendments to boost funding for combating Lyme disease.
“With Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases exploding in the United States — with an estimated 300,000 to 437,000 new cases diagnosed each year and 1020 percent of all patients suffering from chronic Lyme disease — Americans have a right to know whether any of this [ Defense Department involvement] is true.” — Rep. Chris Smith