Lyme Disease - History

History

The evolutionary history of Borrelia burgdorferi genetics has been the subject of recent studies. One study has found that prior to the reforestation that accompanied post colonial farm abandonment in New England and the wholesale migration into the mid-west that occurred during the early 19th century, Lyme disease was present for thousands of years in America and had spread along with its tick hosts from the Northeast to the Midwest.

John Josselyn, who visited New England in 1638 and again from 1663–1670, wrote "there be infinite numbers of tikes hanging upon the bushes in summer time that will cleave to man's garments and creep into his breeches eating themselves in a short time into the very flesh of a man. I have seen the stockins of those that have gone through the woods covered with them."

This is also confirmed by the writings of Peter Kalm, a Swedish botanist who was sent to America by Linnaeus, and who found the forests of New York "abound" with ticks when he visited in 1749. When Kalm's journey was retraced 100 years later, the forests were gone and the Lyme bacterium had probably become isolated to a few pockets along the northeast coast, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

Perhaps the first detailed description of what is now known as Lyme disease appeared in the writings of Reverend Dr John Walker after a visit to the Island of Jura (Deer Island) off the west coast of Scotland in 1764. He gives a good description both of the symptoms of Lyme disease (with "exquisite pain the interior parts of the limbs") and of the tick vector itself, which he describes as a "worm" with a body which is "of a reddish colour and of a compressed shape with a row of feet on each side" that "penetrates the skin". Many people from this area of Great Britain immigrated to North America between 1717 and the end of the 18th century. The examination of preserved museum specimens has found Borrelia DNA in an infected Ixodes ricinus tick from Germany that dates back to 1884, and from an infected mouse from Cape Cod that died in 1894. The 2010 autopsy of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5,300 year old mummy, revealed the presence of the DNA sequence of Borrelia burgdorferi making him the earliest known human with Lyme disease.

The early European studies of what is now known as Lyme disease described its skin manifestations. The first study dates to 1883 in Wrocław, Poland (then known as Breslau, Free State of Prussia), where physician Alfred Buchwald described a man who had suffered for 16 years with a degenerative skin disorder now known as acrodermatitis chronica atrophicans.

Read more about this topic:  Lyme Disease

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