Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

For The Record  

FTR #480 Plum Island, Lyme Disease and the Erich Traub File

Record­ed Octo­ber 3, 2004
NB: This stream con­tains both FTRs 479 and 480 in sequence. Each is a 30 minute broad­cast.

In the mid-1970’s Lyme Dis­ease broke out in Con­necti­cut and it has since spread through much of the Unit­ed States. This pro­gram exam­ines the pos­si­bil­i­ty that Lyme Dis­ease may have spread as a result of clan­des­tine exper­i­men­ta­tion on bio­log­i­cal war­fare on Plum Island—a Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture facil­i­ty that dou­bled as an Army BW research facil­i­ty. Ded­i­cat­ed to the study of ani­mal dis­eases, Plum Island appears to have been the site of exper­i­ments with dis­ease-infect­ed ticks con­duct­ed by Nazi sci­en­tists brought into the Unit­ed States under Project Paper­clip. One of the Nazi sci­en­tists who appears to have been involved with Plum Island was Dr. Erich Traub, who was in charge of the Third Reich’s viro­log­i­cal and bac­te­ri­o­log­i­cal war­fare pro­gram in World War II. Was Traub involved with exper­i­ments that led to the spread of Lyme Dis­ease?

Pro­gram High­lights Include: Exam­i­na­tion of Traub’s stud­ies in the US pri­or to World War II; Traub’s pro-Nazi activ­i­ties inside the US before the war; John Lof­tus’ dis­cov­ery of ref­er­ences in the Nation­al Archives to Nazi sci­en­tists exper­i­ment­ing with dis­eased ticks on Plum Island; Lyme Dis­ease activist Steven Nostrum’s dis­cov­ery of Lof­tus’ find­ings and his work inves­ti­gat­ing Plum Island; Details of Traub’s involve­ment with Plum Island; files about Tick Research and Erich Traub that have been purged; Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can’s dis­missal of the Plum Island/Traub/Paperclip/Lyme Dis­ease link; the Nazi her­itage of the Von Holtzbrinck firm—which owns Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can; Plum Island exper­i­men­ta­tion with the dis­ease-car­ry­ing “Lone Star Tick”; the fact that the Lone Star Tick—native to Texas—has some­how spread to New York, New Jer­sey and Con­necti­cut!

1. In order to under­stand how Erich Traub came to the Unit­ed States, it is impor­tant to under­stand Project PAPERCLIP. The pro­gram begins with a syn­op­tic account of that project and how its pros­e­cu­tion led to Traub’s entry to the Unit­ed States and his involve­ment with Plum Island: “Near­ing the end of World War II, the Unit­ed States and the Sovi­et Union raced to recruit Ger­man sci­en­tists for post­war pur­pos­es. Under a top-secret pro­gram code-named Project PAPERCLIP, the U.S. mil­i­tary pur­sued Nazi sci­en­tif­ic tal­ent ‘like for­bid­den fruit,’ bring­ing them to Amer­i­ca under employ­ment con­tracts and offer­ing them full U.S. cit­i­zen­ship. The recruits were sup­posed to be nom­i­nal par­tic­i­pants in Nazi activ­i­ties. But the zeal­ous mil­i­tary recruit­ed more than two thou­sand sci­en­tists, many of whom had dark Nazi par­ty pasts.”
(Lab 257: the Dis­turb­ing Sto­ry of the Government’s Secret Plum Island Germ Lab­o­ra­to­ry; by Michael Christo­pher Car­roll; Copy­right 2004 by Michael Christo­pher Car­roll; Harper­Collins [HC]; p. 7.)

2. “Amer­i­can sci­en­tists viewed these Ger­mans as peers, and quick­ly for­got they were on oppo­site sides of a ghast­ly glob­al war in which mil­lions per­ished. Fear­ing bru­tal retal­i­a­tion from the Sovi­ets for the Nazis’ vicious treat­ment of them, some sci­en­tists coop­er­at­ed with the Amer­i­cans to earn amnesty. Oth­ers played the two nations off each oth­er to get the best finan­cial deal in exchange for their ser­vices. Dr. Erich Traub was trou­bling on the Sovi­et side of the Iron Cur­tain after the war, and ordered to research germ war­fare virus­es for the Rus­sians. He pulled off a dar­ing escape with his fam­i­ly to West Berlin in 1949. Apply­ing for Project Paper­clip employ­ment, Traub affirmed he want­ed to ‘do sci­en­tif­ic work in the U.S.A., become an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen, and be pro­tect­ed from Russ­ian reprisals.’” (Idem.)

3. The pro­gram sets forth Traub’s work for the Third Reich: “As lab chief of Insel Riems—a secret Nazi bio­log­i­cal war­fare lab­o­ra­to­ry on a cres­cent-shaped island nes­tled in the Baltic Sea—Traub worked direct­ly for Adolf Hitler’s sec­ond-in-charge, SS Reichs­fuehrer Hein­rich Himm­ler, on live germ tri­als. . . .” (Ibid.; pp. 7–8.)

4. Traub had stud­ied in the Unit­ed States before the war (at the Rock­e­feller Insti­tute) and had been involved in Nazi activ­i­ties inside the U.S. pri­or to 1939 (the out­break of World War II). “ . . . Traub also list­ed his 1930’s mem­ber­ship in Ameri­ka-Deutsch­er Volks­bund, a Ger­man-Amer­i­can ‘club’ also known as Camp Sigfriend. Just thir­ty miles west of Plum Island in Yaphank, Long Island, Camp Sigfried was the nation­al head­quar­ters of the Amer­i­can Nazi move­ment. . . .Iron­i­cal­ly, Traub spent the pre­war peri­od of his sci­en­tif­ic career on a fel­low­ship at the Rock­e­feller Insti­tute in Prince­ton, New Jer­sey, per­fect­ing his skills in virus­es and bac­te­ria under the tute­lage of Amer­i­can experts before return­ing to Nazi Ger­many on the eve of war. Despite Traub’s trou­bling war record, the U.S. Navy recruit­ed him for its sci­en­tif­ic designs, and sta­tioned him at the Naval Med­ical Research Insti­tute in Bethes­da, Mary­land.” (Ibid.; p. 8.)

5. Nom­i­nal­ly under the juris­dic­tion of the USDA (Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture), Plum Island was also used for mil­i­tary bio­log­i­cal war­fare research on ani­mal dis­eases. In that regard, it was involved with Fort Diet­rick, the Army’s top chem­i­cal and bio­log­i­cal war­fare facil­i­ty. Note that Traub was at the foun­da­tion of the Plum Island/biological war­fare nexus. “Just months into his PAPERCLIP con­tract, the germ war­riors of Fort Det­rick, the Army’s bio­log­i­cal war­fare head­quar­ters, in Fred­er­ick, Mary­land, and CIA oper­a­tives invit­ed Traub in for a talk, lat­er report­ed in a declas­si­fied top-secret sum­ma­ry: Dr. Traub is a not­ed author­i­ty on virus­es and dis­eases in Ger­many and Europe. This inter­ro­ga­tion revealed much infor­ma­tion of val­ue to the ani­mal dis­ease pro­gram from a Bio­log­i­cal War­fare point of view. Dr. Traub dis­cussed work done at a Ger­man ani­mal dis­ease sta­tion dur­ing World War II and sub­se­quent to the war when the sta­tion was under Russ­ian con­trol.’ Traub’s detailed expla­na­tion of the secret oper­a­tion on Insel Riems, and his activ­i­ties there dur­ing the war and for the Sovi­ets, laid the ground work for Fort Detrick’s off­shore germ war­fare ani­mal dis­eased lab on Plum Island. Traub was a found­ing father. . . .” (Ibid.; pp. 8–9.)

6. It is inter­est­ing to note that the Third Reich’s bio­log­i­cal war­fare pro­gram had the cov­er name of “Can­cer Research Pro­gram.” (In RFA#16—available from Spitfire—as well as FTR#’s 16, 73, we look at the Nation­al Can­cer Institute’s Spe­cial Viral Can­cer Research Pro­gram and the evi­dence sug­gest­ing that the project was actu­al­ly a front for the con­tin­u­a­tion of bio­log­i­cal war­fare research. Erich Traub appears to have been involved with the projects relat­ed to the SVCRP.) “ . . . Every­body seemed will­ing to for­get about Erich Traub’s dirty past—that he played a cru­cial role in the Nazis’ ‘Can­cer Research Pro­gram,’ the cov­er name for their bio­log­i­cal war­fare pro­gram, and that he worked direct­ly under SS Reichs­fuhrer Hein­rich Himm­ler. They seemed will­ing to over­look that Traub in the 1930’s faith­ful­ly attend­ed Camp Sigfried. In fact, the USDA liked him so much, it glossed over his dubi­ous past and offered him the top sci­en­tist job at the new Plum Island Laboratory—not once, but twice. Just months after the 1952 pub­lic hear­ings on select­ing Plum Island, Doc Sha­han dialed Dr. Traub at the naval lab­o­ra­to­ry to dis­cuss plans for estab­lish­ing the germ lab­o­ra­to­ry and a posi­tion on Plum Island.” (Ibid.; p. 10.)

7. More about how Traub came to be in a sig­nif­i­cant posi­tion at Plum Island. “Six years later—and only two years after Traub squirmed in his seat at the Plum Island ded­i­ca­tion ceremonies—senior sc

ien­tist Dr. Jacob Traum retired. The USDA need­ed some­one of ‘out­stand­ing cal­iber, with a long estab­lished rep­u­ta­tion, inter­na­tion­al­ly as well as nation­al­ly,’ to fill Dr. Traum’s shoes. But some­how it couldn’t find a suit­able Amer­i­can. ‘As a last resort it is now pro­posed that a for­eign­er be employed.’ The aggies’ choice? Erich Traub, who was in their view ‘the most desir­able can­di­date from any source.’ The 1958 secret USDA mem­o­ran­dum ‘Jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for Employ­ment of Dr. Erich Traub’ con­ve­nient­ly omit­ted his World War II activ­i­ties; but it did empha­size that ‘his orig­i­nal­i­ty, sci­en­tif­ic abil­i­ties, and gen­er­al com­pe­tence as an inves­ti­ga­tor’ were devel­oped at the Rock­e­feller Insti­tute in New Jer­sey in the 1930’s.” (Idem.)

8. The push to employ Traub as the direc­tor of Plum Island involved pro­fes­sion­al rec­om­men­da­tions that omit­ted his work for the Third Reich: “The let­ters sup­port­ing Traub to lead Plum Island came in from fel­low Plum Island founders. ‘I hope that every effort will be made to get him. He has had long and pro­duc­tive expe­ri­ence in both pre­war and post­war Ger­many,’ said Dr. William Hagan, dean of the Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty vet­eri­nary school, care­ful­ly dis­pens­ing with his wartime activ­i­ties. The final word came from his dear Amer­i­can friend and old Rock­e­feller Insti­tute boss Dr. Richard Shope, who described Traub as ‘care­ful, skill, pro­duc­tive and very orig­i­nal’ and ‘one of this world’s most out­stand­ing virol­o­gists.’ Shope’s sole ref­er­ence to Traub at war: ‘Dur­ing the war he was in Ger­many serv­ing in the Ger­man Army.’” (Idem.)

9. Traub declined the offer to lead the lab. There is con­sid­er­able evi­dence that he was involved with bio­log­i­cal war­fare research at Plum Island. “Declin­ing the USDA’s offer, Traub con­tin­ued his direc­tor­ship of the Tub­in­gen lab­o­ra­to­ry in West Ger­many, though he vis­it­ed Plum Island fre­quent­ly. In 1960, he was forced to resign as Tubingen’s direc­tor under a dark cloud of finan­cial embez­zle­ment. Traub con­tin­ued spo­radic lab research for anoth­er three years, and then left Tub­in­gen for good–a scan­dalous end to a check­ered career. In the late 1970’s, the esteemed virol­o­gist Dr. Robert Shope, on busi­ness in Munich, paid his father Richard’s old Rock­e­feller Insti­tute dis­ci­ple a vis­it. The germ war­rior had been in ear­ly retire­ment for about a decade by then. ‘I had din­ner with Traub one day—out of old time’s sake—and he was a pret­ty defeat­ed man by then.’ On May 18, 1985, the Nazis’ virus war­rior Dr. Erich Traub died unex­pect­ed­ly in his sleep in West Ger­many. He was sev­en­ty-eight years old.” (Ibid.; pp. 10–11.)

10. “A bio­log­i­cal war­fare mer­ce­nary who worked under three flags—Nazi Ger­many, the Sovi­et Union, and the Unit­ed States—Traub was nev­er inves­ti­gat­ed for war crimes. He escaped any inquiry into his wartime past. The full extent of his sor­did endeav­ors went with him to his grave. While Amer­i­ca brought a hand­ful of Nazi war crim­i­nals to jus­tice, it safe­guard­ed many oth­ers in exchange for vers­es to the new state religion—modern sci­ence and espi­onage. Records detail­ing a frac­tion of Eric Traub’s activ­i­ties are now avail­able to the pub­lic, but most are with­held by Army intel­li­gence and the CIA on grounds of nation­al secu­ri­ty. But there’s enough of a glimpse to draw quite a sketch.” (Ibid.; p. 11.)

11. An impor­tant chap­ter in the sto­ry of how the inquiry into the pos­si­ble link between Plum Island, Erich Traub’s work on behalf of the US and the spread of Lyme Dis­ease con­cerns the work of for­mer Jus­tice Depart­ment pros­e­cu­tor John Lof­tus. In his book The Belarus Secret, Lof­tus referred to work done on Plum Island in the ear­ly 1950’s in which Nazi sci­en­tists were exper­i­ment­ing on dis­eased ticks. Might that have referred to Traub?! “ . . . Attor­ney John Lof­tus was hired in 1979 by the Office of Spe­cial Inves­ti­ga­tions, a unit set up by the Jus­tice Depart­ment to expose Nazi war crimes and unearth Nazis hid­ing in the Unit­ed States. Giv­en top-secret clear­ance to review files that had been sealed for thir­ty-five years, Lof­tus found a trea­sure trove of infor­ma­tion on America’s post­war Nazi recruit­ing. In 1982, pub­licly chal­leng­ing the government’s com­pla­cen­cy with the wrong­do­ing, he told 60 Min­utes that top Nazi offi­cers had been pro­tect­ed and har­bored in Amer­i­ca by the CIA and the State Depart­ment. ‘They got the Emmy Award,’ Lof­tus wrote. ‘My fam­i­ly got the death threats.’” (Ibid.; p. 13.)

12. “Old spies reached out to him after the pub­li­ca­tion of his book, The Belarus Secret, encour­aged that he—unlike oth­er authors—submitted his man­u­script to the gov­ern­ment, agree­ing to cen­sor por­tions to pro­tect nation­al secu­ri­ty. The spooks gave him copies of secret doc­u­ments and told him sto­ries of clan­des­tine oper­a­tions. From these leads, Lof­tus fer­ret­ed out the dubi­ous Nazi past of Aus­tri­an pres­i­dent and U.N. sec­re­tary gen­er­al Kurt Wald­heim. Lof­tus revealed that dur­ing World War II, Wald­heim had been an offi­cer in a Ger­man Army unit that com­mit­ted atroc­i­ties in Yugoslavia. A dis­graced Kurt Wald­heim fad­ed from the inter­na­tion­al scene soon there­after.” (Idem.)

13. “In the pref­ace of The Belarus Secret, Lof­tus laid out a strik­ing piece of infor­ma­tion gleaned from his spy net­work: ‘Even more dis­turb­ing are the records of the Nazi germ war­fare sci­en­tists who came to Amer­i­ca. They exper­i­ment­ed with poi­son ticks dropped from planes to spread rare dis­eases. I have received some infor­ma­tion sug­gest­ing that the U.S. test­ed some of these poi­son ticks on the Plum Island artillery range off the coast of Con­necti­cut dur­ing the ear­ly 1950’s. . . .Most of the germ war­fare records have been shred­ded, but there is a top secret U.S. doc­u­ment con­firm­ing that ‘clan­des­tine attacks on crops and ani­mals’ took place at this time.” (Idem.)

14. More pieces of evi­dence on the tan­ta­liz­ing trail of evi­dence point­ing to a pos­si­ble Plum Island/Traub/Lyme dis­ease link: “Erich Traub had been work­ing for the Amer­i­can bio­log­i­cal war­fare pro­gram from his 1949 Sovi­et escape until 1953. We know he con­sult­ed with Fort Diet­rick sci­en­tists and CIA oper­a­tives; that he worked for the USDA for a brief stint; and that he spoke reg­u­lar­ly with Plum Island direc­tor Doc Sha­han in 1952. Traub can be phys­i­cal­ly placed on Plum Island at least three times—on ded­i­ca­tion day in 1956 and two vis­its, once in 1957 and again in the spring of 1958. Sha­han, who enforced an ultra­strict pol­i­cy against out­side vis­i­tors, each time received spe­cial clear­ance from the State Depart­ment to allow Traub on Plum Island soil.” (Ibid.; p. 14.)

15. If in fact Traub was involved with research on Plum Island, this devel­op­ment would have been con­sis­tent with pro­grams being con­duct­ed at that time involv­ing exper­i­men­ta­tion on unwit­ting Amer­i­can cit­i­zens with bio­log­i­cal and chem­i­cal war­fare research agents: “Research unearthed three USDA files from the vault of the Nation­al Archives—two were labeled TICK RESEARCH and a third E.TRAUB. All three fold­ers were emp­ty. The caked-on dust con­firms the file box­es hadn’t been open since the moment before they were taped shut in the 1950’s. Pre­pos­ter­ous as it sounds, clan­des­tine out­door germ war­fare tri­als were almost rou­tine dur­ing this peri­od. In 1952, the Joint Chiefs of Staff called for a ‘vig­or­ous, well-planned, large-scale [bio­log­i­cal war­fare] test to the sec­re­tary of defense lat­er that year stat­ed, ‘Steps should be take to make cer­tain of ade­quate facil­i­ties are avail­able, includ­ing those at Fort Det­rick, Dug­way Prov­ing Ground, Fort Ter­ry (Plum Island) and an island field test­ing area.’ Was Plum Island the island field test­ing area? Indeed, when the Army first scout­ed Plum Island for its Cold War designs, they chart­ed wind speeds and direc­tion and found that, much to their lik­ing, the pre­vail­ing winds blew out to sea.” (Idem.)


“One of the par­tic­i­pat­ing ‘inter­est­ed agen­cies’ was the USDA, which admit­ted­ly set up large plots of land through­out the Mid­west for air­borne anti­crop germ spray tests. Fort Detrick’s Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Divi­sion ran ‘vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty tests’ in which oper­a­tives walked around Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and San Fran­cis­co with suit­cas­es hold­ing Ser­ra­tia marcescens—a bac­te­ria rec­om­mend­ed to Fort Det­rick by Traub’s nom­i­nal super­vi­sor, Nazi germ czar and Nurem­berg defen­dant Dr. Kurt Blome. Tiny per­fo­ra­tions allowed the germs’ release so they could trace the flow of the germs through air­ports and bus ter­mi­nals. Short­ly there­after, eleven elder­ly men and women checked into hos­pi­tals with nev­er-before-seen Ser­ra­tia marcescens infec­tions. One patient died. Decades lat­er when the germ tests were dis­closed, the Army denied respon­si­bil­i­ty. . . . In the sum­mer of 1966, Spe­cial Oper­a­tions men walked into three New York City sub­way sta­tions and tossed light­bulbs filled Bacil­lus sub­tilis, a benign bac­te­ria, onto the tracks. The sub­way trains pushed the germs through the entire sys­tem and the­o­ret­i­cal­ly killed over a mil­lion pas­sen­gers.” (Idem.)

17. “Tests were also run with live, vir­u­lent, anti-ani­mal germ agents. Two hog-cholera bombs were explod­ed at an alti­tude of 1,500 feet over pig­pens set up at Eglin Air Force Base in Flori­da. And turkey feath­ers laced with New­cas­tle dis­ease virus were dropped on ani­mals graz­ing on a Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin farm.” (Ibid.; p. 15.)

18. “The Army nev­er ful­ly with­drew its germ war­fare efforts against food ani­mals. Two years after the Army gave Plum Island to the USDA—and three years after it told Pres­i­dent Eisen­how­er it had end­ed all bio­log­i­cal war­fare against food animals—the Joint Chiefs advised that ‘research on anti-ani­mal agent-muni­tion com­bi­na­tions should’ con­tin­ue, as well as ‘field test­ing of anti-food agent muni­tion com­bi­na­tions. . . .’ In Novem­ber 1957, mil­i­tary intel­li­gence exam­ined the elim­i­na­tion of the food sup­ply of the Sino-Sovi­et Bloc, right down to the calo­ries required for vic­to­ry: ‘In order to have a crip­pling effect on the econ­o­my of the USSR, the food and ani­mal crop resources of the USSR would have to be dam­aged with­in a sin­gle grow­ing sea­son to the extent nec­es­sary to reduce the present aver­age dai­ly caloric intake from 2,800 calo­ries to 1,400 calo­ries; i.e., the star­va­tion lev­el. Reduc­tion of food resources to this lev­el, if main­tained for twelve months, would pro­duce 20 per­cent fatal­i­ties, and would decrease man­u­al labor per­for­mance by 95 per­cent and cler­i­cal and light labor per­for­mance by 80 per­cent.’ At least six out­door stock­yard tests occurred in 1964–65. Sim­u­lants were sprayed into stock­yards in Fort Worth, Kansas City, St. Paul, Sioux Falls, and Oma­ha in tests deter­min­ing how much foot-and-mouth dis­ease virus would be required to destroy the food sup­ply.” (Idem.)

19. “Had the Army com­man­deered Plum Island for an out­door tri­al? Maybe the USDA lent a hand with the tri­al, as it had done out west by fur­nish­ing the large test fields. After all, the Plum Island agree­ment between the Army and the USDA allowed the Army to bor­row the island from the USDA when nec­es­sary and in the nation­al inter­est.” (Idem.)

20. A for­mer employ­ee at Plum Island in the 1950’s has per­son­al rec­ol­lec­tion of a “Nazi sci­en­tist” releas­ing ticks out­doors on Plum Island. “Traub might have mon­i­tored the tests. A source who worked on Plum Island in the 1950’s recalls that ani­mal han­dlers and a sci­en­tist released ticks out­doors on the island. ‘They called him the Nazi sci­en­tist, when they came in, in 1951—they were inoc­u­lat­ing these ticks,’ and a pic­ture he once saw ‘shows the ani­mal han­dler point­ing to the area on Plum where they released the ticks.’ Dr. Traub’s World War II hand­i­work con­sist­ed of aer­i­al virus sprays devel­oped on Insel Riems and test­ed over occu­pied Rus­sia, and of field work for Hein­rich Himm­ler in Turkey. Indeed, his col­leagues con­duct­ed bug tri­als by drop­ping live bee­tles from planes. An out­door tick tri­al would have been de rigueur for Erich Traub.” (Ibid.; pp. 15–16.)

21. Next, the pro­gram sets forth the case of Steve Nostrum—an ear­ly Lyme Dis­ease vic­tim whose read­ing of Lof­tus’ book spurred him to begin inquir­ing about the Plum Island/Traub con­nec­tion. “Some­body gave Steve Nos­trum a copy of John Loftus’s The Belarus Secret at one of his sup­port group meet­ings. Steve had long sus­pect­ed that Plum Island played a role in the evo­lu­tion of Lyme dis­ease, giv­en the nature of its busi­ness and its prox­im­i­ty to Old Lyme, Con­necti­cut. But he nev­er pub­licly voiced the hunch, fear­ing a loss of cred­i­bil­i­ty; hard facts and sta­tis­tics earned him a rep­u­ta­tion as a leader in the Lyme dis­ease field. Now in his hands, he had a book writ­ten by a Jus­tice Depart­ment attor­ney who not only had appeared on 60 Min­utes but also had brought down the sec­re­tary gen­er­al of the Unit­ed Nations. Nos­trum dis­closed the pos­si­ble Plum-Lyme con­nec­tion on his own tele­vi­sion show. He invit­ed local news reporter and Plum Island ombuds­man Karl Gross­man to help him explore the pos­si­bil­i­ties in light of the island’s bio­log­i­cal mishaps. Asked why he wrote about Loftus’s book in his week­ly news­pa­per col­umn, Gross­man says, ‘To let the the­o­ry rise or fall. To let the pub­lic con­sid­er it. And it seemed to me that the author was a Nazi hunter and a rep­utable attorney—this was not triv­ial infor­ma­tion pro­vid­ed [and it was pro­vid­ed] by some reli­able per­son.’” (Idem.)

22. “In Octo­ber 1995, Nos­trum, fresh off nurs­ing duty (hav­ing earned an RN degree to help Lyme dis­ease patients), rushed to a rare pub­lic meet­ing held by the USDA. In a white nurse’s coat, stetho­scope still around his neck, Nos­trum rose. Trem­bling, his blond beard now streaked with gray, he clutched his copy of The Belarus Secret as he read the damn­ing pas­sage out loud for the USDA and the pub­lic to hear. ‘I don’t know whether this is true,’ he said, look­ing at the dais. ‘If it is true, there must be an investigation—if it’s not true, then John Lof­tus needs to be pros­e­cut­ed.’ Peo­ple in the audi­ence clapped, and some were aston­ished. A few gawked, think­ing he was nuts. How did the offi­cial USDA offi­cials react? ‘If stares could kill, I would have been dead,’ remem­bers Nos­trum.” (Idem.)

23. “Hid­ing behind the same aloof veil of secre­cy they had employed for decades, the USDA brazen­ly cut him off. ‘There are those who think that lit­tle green men are hid­ing out there,’ the offi­cials respond­ed to Nos­trum. ‘But trust us when we say there are no space aliens and no five-legged cows.’ A few laughs erupt­ed in the crowd. ‘It did noth­ing but detract from what I was say­ing,’ says Nos­trum. ‘But I said it, and I had the doc­u­men­ta­tion to sup­port it.’” (Idem.)

24. The author spec­u­lates about the deer and birds that vis­it­ed Plum Island, and the pos­si­bil­i­ty that some of the infect­ed ticks may well have trav­eled to the main­land from the island on those vec­tors. (Car­roll explains that white-tailed deer reg­u­lar­ly swim the two miles to the island to for­age and migrat­ing birds stop on Plum Island on their way North and South dur­ing their annu­al migra­tions.) “ . . . If Dr. Traub con­tin­ued his out­door germ exper­i­ments with the Army and exper­i­ment­ed with ticks out­doors, the ticks would have made con­tact with mice, deer, and more than 140 species of wild birds known to fre­quent and nest on Plum Island. The birds spread their tox­ic car­go to rest­ing and nest­ing perch­es atop the great elms and oaks of Old Lyme and else­where, just like they spread the West Nile virus through­out the Unit­ed States.” (Ibid.; p. 21.)

25. After not­ing that alle­ga­tions of the dis­cov­ery of Bb (the bac­teri­um that caus­es Lyme Dis­ease) in the late 1940’s coin­cides with Traub’s arrival on the island, the broad­cast sets forth the denials by a USDA spokesper­son that there was any BW/Traub/Plum Island link to the spread of the Lyme infec­tion. Note that Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can dis­missed the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a “Nazi sci­en­tist” link to Plum Island. In FTR#240—part of the long FTR series about “Ger­man Cor­po­rate Con­trol over Amer­i­can Media”–it was not­ed that the Von Holtzbrinck firm con­trols that mag­a­zine. Like its larg­er com­peti­tor Ber­tels­mann, the Von Holtzbrinck firm is root­ed firm­ly in the Third Reich. In FTR#226, we exam­ined the Nazi her­itage of Von Holtzbrinck and the pos­si­bil­i­ty that they may employed the noto­ri­ous SS offi­cer and Goebbels pro­tégé Wern­er Nau­mann. The pos­si­bil­i­ty that the Von Holtzbrinck/Scientific Amer­i­can link may have had some­thing to do with the magazine’s casu­al dis­missal of the Traub/Plum/Lyme link is not one to be too read­i­ly dis­missed. “Researchers try­ing to prove that Lyme dis­ease exist­ed before 1975 claim to have iso­lat­ed Bb [the bac­teri­um that caus­es the infec­tion] in ticks col­lect­ed on near­by Shel­ter Island and Long Island in the late 1940’s. That tim­ing coin­cides with both Erich Traub’s arrival in the Unit­ed States on Project PAPERCLIP and the Army’s selec­tion of Plum Island as its off­shore bio­log­i­cal war­fare lab­o­ra­to­ry. The USDA’s spokesper­son, Sandy Miller Hays, is uncon­vinced about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a link between Lyme dis­ease and Plum Island: . . . A PR expert, Hays had Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can eat­ing out of her hand in June 2000, when they report­ed her as say­ing, ‘ ‘We still get asked about the Nazi sci­en­tists,’ . . . [with] the slight­est trace of weari­ness creep­ing into her voice.’ In their fea­ture sto­ry on Plum Island, the pres­ti­gious mag­a­zine dubbed the intrigue sur­round­ing the island as a ‘fan­ci­ful fic­tion­al tapes­try.’” (Ibid.; pp. 21–22.)

26. The pro­gram con­cludes with exam­i­na­tion of Plum Island’s work with the “Lone Star Tick”—native to Texas. The focal point of exper­i­men­ta­tion on Plum Island in the 1970’s, the Lone Star tick—like Lyme Disease–is now spread through­out New York, New Jer­sey and Con­necti­cut. How did that hap­pen? “ . . . The lab chief [Dr. Charles Mebus] failed to men­tion that Plum Island also worked on ‘hard ticks,’ a cru­cial dis­tinc­tion. A long over­looked doc­u­ment, obtained from the files of an inves­ti­ga­tion by the office of for­mer Long Island Con­gress­man Thomas Downey, sheds new light on the sec­ond, more damn­ing con­nec­tion to Lyme dis­ease. A USDA 1978 inter­nal research doc­u­ment titled ‘African Swine Fever’ notes that in 1975 and 1976, con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous with the strange out­break in Old Lyme, Con­necti­cut, ‘the adult and nymphal stages of Aby­lom­ma amer­i­canum and Aby­lom­ma cajunense were found to be inca­pable of har­bor­ing and trans­mit­ting African swine fever virus.’ In laymen’s terms, Plum Island was exper­i­ment­ing with the Lone Star tick and the Cayenne tick—feeding them on virus­es and test­ing them on pigs—during the ground zero year of Lyme dis­ease. They did not trans­mit African swine fever to pigs, said the doc­u­ment, but they might have trans­mit­ted Bb to researchers or to the island’s vec­tors. The Lone Star tick, named after the white star on the back of the female, is a hard tick; along with its cousin, the deer tick, it is a cul­prit in the spread of Lyme dis­ease. Inter­est­ing­ly, at that time, the Lone Star tick’s habi­tat was con­fined to Texas. Today, how­ev­er, it is endem­ic through­out New York, Con­necti­cut, and New Jer­sey. And no one can real­ly explain how it migrat­ed all the way from Texas. . . .” (Ibid.; pp. 24–25.)


7 comments for “FTR #480 Plum Island, Lyme Disease and the Erich Traub File”

  1. Recent­ly become amazed on the his­to­ry of Lyme, oth­er tick-borne ill­ness­es, and tin-hat exper­i­ments dur­ing the World Wars. Would love to get my hands on the audio, how­ev­er, can’t seem to down­load the RealAu­dio. Can you please check the link and per­haps re-upload? Many thanks.

    Posted by Chillis | September 9, 2013, 7:01 pm
  2. @Chillis–

    Try the MP3 file: http://emory.kfjc.org/archive/ftr/400_499/f‑480.mp3

    All of the pro­grams have MP3 files in the audio cat­e­go­ry, acces­si­ble at the top of the front page.



    Posted by Dave Emory | September 9, 2013, 7:51 pm
  3. I was bit­ten by a tick in Octo­ber of 1972. I was 17 and devel­oped the symp­toms of Lymes. I am 59 today and I am now dis­abled. I live near Shreve­port Louisiana. This is the same place I was bit. It was not until 1983 that my mom who was a nurse fig­ured out it was Lyme.

    Posted by Janet | June 17, 2015, 7:53 am
  4. I received Lymer­ix and have chron­ic reac­tive arthri­tis ever since. Do you have access or know where I can access orig­i­nal doc­u­ments?

    Posted by Andrea Woodruff | June 17, 2016, 4:30 am
  5. @Andrea Woodruff–

    Not off­hand. I’d file a Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion action to see what doc­u­men­ta­tion can be received about Plum Island.

    This will NOT be an easy road but it’s the best thing I can think of.

    I am assum­ing that your inter­est is in acquir­ing doc­u­men­ta­tion about pos­si­ble Plum Island/DOD exper­i­men­ta­tion with the rel­e­vant pathogens.

    There may be oth­er archives that have already obtained orig­i­nal doc­u­ments in this regard. The dis­cus­sion of Lyme Dis­ease as a pos­si­ble bio­log­i­cal weapon has gar­nered a lot of inter­est in the grow­ing com­mu­ni­ty of Lyme dis­ease suf­fer­ers and care givers. They may be of some assis­tance.



    Posted by Dave Emory | June 17, 2016, 2:44 pm
  6. Unearths New Mys­tery about Lyme Dis­ease

    Dis­cov­ery sparks ques­tions about fac­tors that may make ail­ment hard­er to cure or lead to mis­di­ag­no­sis

    By Charles Piller, STAT on Octo­ber 13, 2016

    The tick hunter was hope­ful he had found the cause of the dis­abling ill­ness, recent­ly named Lyme dis­ease, that was spread­ing anx­i­ety through leafy com­mu­ni­ties east of New York City. At a gov­ern­ment lab in Mon­tana, Willy Burgdor­fer typed a let­ter to a col­league, report­ing that blood from Lyme patients showed “very strong reac­tions” on a test for an obscure, tick-borne bac­teri­um. He called it the “Swiss Agent.”

    But fur­ther stud­ies raised doubts about whether he had the right cul­prit, and 18 months lat­er, in 1981, Burgdor­fer instead pinned Lyme on anoth­er microbe. The Swiss Agent test results were for­got­ten.

    Now STAT has obtained those doc­u­ments, includ­ing some dis­cov­ered in box­es of Burgdorfer’s per­son­al papers found in his garage after his death in 2014. The papers—including let­ters to col­lab­o­ra­tors, lab records, and blood test results—indicate that the Swiss Agent was infect­ing peo­ple in Con­necti­cut and Long Island in the late 1970s.

    And sci­en­tists who worked with Burgdor­fer, and reviewed key por­tions of the doc­u­ments at STAT’s request, said the bac­te­ria might still be sick­en­ing an unknown num­ber of Amer­i­cans today.

    While the evi­dence is hard­ly con­clu­sive, patients and doc­tors might be mis­tak­ing under-the-radar Swiss Agent infec­tions for Lyme, the infec­tious dis­ease spe­cial­ists said. Or the bac­te­ria could be co-infect­ing some Lyme patients, exac­er­bat­ing symp­toms and com­pli­cat­ing their treatment—and even stok­ing a bit­ter debate about whether Lyme often becomes a per­sis­tent and seri­ous ill­ness.

    Swiss Agent, now called Rick­ettsia hel­veti­ca, is like­ly not a major health risk in the Unit­ed States, in part because such bac­te­ria typ­i­cal­ly respond to antibi­otics. Still, sev­er­al of Burgdorfer’s for­mer col­leagues called for infec­tious dis­ease researchers to mount a search for the bac­teri­um.

    “It should be done,” said Jorge Benach, a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Stony Brook Uni­ver­si­ty and a coau­thor of Burgdorfer’s sem­i­nal 1982 paper describ­ing the detec­tion of the Lyme microbe. Pub­lic health con­cerns war­rant a new study, Benach said, and with today’s more advanced “weapon­ry for pathogen dis­cov­ery, it would make per­fect sense.”

    Dr. Paul Mead, chief of epi­demi­ol­o­gy and sur­veil­lance for the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Prevention’s Lyme dis­ease pro­gram, said that he wasn’t famil­iar with Rick­ettsia hel­veti­ca, but that “new tick-borne pathogens could cer­tain­ly be out there.” He cit­ed sev­er­al found in the years since Lyme’s cause was dis­cov­ered. Any seri­ous, com­mon co-infec­tion would usu­al­ly, but not always, be noticed by physi­cians as a dis­tinct prob­lem in Lyme endem­ic areas, he said.

    In Europe and Asia, Rick­ettsia hel­veti­ca has been rec­og­nized as a rel­a­tive­ly rare but some­times seri­ous health threat if untreat­ed. It’s been linked to a hand­ful of sud­den deaths from heart dis­ease, as well as facial pal­sy, deaf­ness, menin­gi­tis, chron­ic mus­cle weak­ness, and tem­po­rary paral­y­sis. But US lab­o­ra­to­ries don’t test for the Swiss Agent.

    STAT was approached with Burgdorfer’s archives by Kris New­by, who is writ­ing a biog­ra­phy of Burgdor­fer and pro­duced an award-win­ning doc­u­men­tary that sym­pa­thet­i­cal­ly depicts Lyme patients and doc­tors who chal­lenged the med­ical estab­lish­ment over its approach to Lyme diag­no­sis and treat­ment.

    The doc­u­ments offer a tan­ta­liz­ing glimpse into how dis­ease detec­tives tracked down Lyme’s cause—and how poten­tial­ly sig­nif­i­cant loose ends can some­times be dropped by researchers pressed for time and fund­ing or divert­ed by more promis­ing leads.

    They show that Burgdor­fer intend­ed to look more deeply into the Swiss Agent, which he had dis­cov­ered in 1978 in Switzer­land, but nev­er did. His for­mer col­leagues spec­u­late that he set aside this research to focus on iden­ti­fy­ing the cause of Lyme. When the Swiss Agent turned out to be an unlike­ly can­di­date after all, he rede­ployed his lim­it­ed time and resources to oth­er prospects.

    But the papers sug­gest that he might have gone to his grave har­bor­ing regret that he didn’t fol­low up on the Swiss Agent find­ings, as rea­son­able as the deci­sion was, Benach said.

    On the top of a stack of doc­u­ments in his garage was a mys­te­ri­ous note, penned bold­ly in red ink in the scientist’s unmis­tak­able hand­writ­ing. “I won­dered why some­body didn’t do some­thing,” it said. “Then I real­ized that I am some­body.”

    The Lyme wars

    Lyme has now become one of the most com­mon infec­tious dis­eases in the Unit­ed States—it’s been found in every state except Hawaii, and is ram­pant in the North­east and parts of the Mid­west. The CDC esti­mates that 329,000 peo­ple are infect­ed annu­al­ly.

    Lyme has also pro­voked what’s often described as a “war” over diag­no­sis and treat­ment. If Rick­ettsia hel­veti­ca is in the Unit­ed States, some experts con­sult­ed by STAT said, unrec­og­nized infec­tions might be one of sev­er­al fac­tors con­tribut­ing to the con­tro­ver­sy, by cre­at­ing con­fu­sion over the cause of some patients’ ill­ness­es.

    The Infec­tious Dis­eases Soci­ety of Amer­i­ca, the CDC, and many doc­tors view Lyme as gen­er­al­ly easy to diag­nose with its char­ac­ter­is­tic “bulls-eye” rash and pin­point lab tests, and easy to cure with two-to-four weeks of antibi­otics. If the dis­ease is not diag­nosed and treat­ed early—in up to 30 per­cent of cas­es, there is no rash—patients can devel­op longer-last­ing and more seri­ous symp­toms. But most infec­tious dis­ease doc­tors say a short course of antibi­otics will cure those patients.

    But an insur­gency of rene­gade doc­tors and patients dis­agrees. They argue that the diag­no­sis is fre­quent­ly missed because of poor lab tests and oth­er fac­tors, and that Lyme becomes a chron­ic con­di­tion when untreat­ed or inad­e­quate­ly treat­ed. The patients describe symp­toms that include inca­pac­i­tat­ing “brain fog” and weak­ness, intense anx­i­ety, severe mus­cle pain, and par­a­lyz­ing headaches. Many say that they required treat­ment with antibi­otics last­ing months or longer to be cured after years of mis­ery.

    Although the few small clin­i­cal tri­als that have exam­ined long-term antibi­ot­ic ther­a­py up to 90 days have shown few if any clear ben­e­fits, this camp has gained a pas­sion­ate fol­low­ing, includ­ing a cadre of researchers who pub­lish papers sup­port­ing this alter­na­tive view, and a med­ical group—the Inter­na­tion­al Lyme and Asso­ci­at­ed Dis­eases Soci­ety.

    The med­ical estab­lish­ment most­ly views “chron­ic Lyme” as the prod­uct of quack doc­tors exploit­ing des­per­ate patients by offer­ing unproven ther­a­pies. The patients some­times need psy­chi­atric care, these experts say, but in any case, chron­ic phys­i­cal com­plaints are not caused by an active Lyme infec­tion. Some state med­ical boards have gone so far as to revoke licens­es of doc­tors who pre­scribe long-term antibi­otics.

    It’s hard to over­state the ani­mos­i­ty that char­ac­ter­izes this clash. A few angry patients have com­pared estab­lish­ment Lyme experts—including Dr. Allen Steere, who col­lab­o­rat­ed with Burgdor­fer and has received death threats—to the Nazi doc­tor Joseph Men­gele.

    How might the Swiss Agent add fuel to this con­flict? Steere, a Mass­a­chu­setts Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal researcher and among the world’s lead­ing Lyme experts, said some patients who believe they have Lyme, but who test neg­a­tive for the infec­tion, might be suf­fer­ing from an ill­ness caused by one of sev­er­al oth­er microbes. Rick­ettsia hel­veti­ca could be among them, he said.

    Ticks often car­ry more than one pathogen, so patients can also have co-infec­tions along with Lyme, which fre­quent­ly begin with sim­i­lar symp­toms, such as fever, neck stiff­ness, and headaches.

    “You can’t tell them apart clin­i­cal­ly” in the first sev­er­al weeks, Steere said. Co-infec­tions can cause “more severe ear­ly dis­ease … a phe­nom­e­non of the sum­mer, when the tick bites.” Longer term, the con­fu­sion would not last because of Lyme’s dis­tinct symp­toms, even if the infec­tion were untreat­ed, he added.

    Oth­er experts not­ed that Lyme and Rick­ettsia hel­veti­ca have co-infect­ed patients in Europe. Antibi­otics nor­mal­ly cure Rick­ettsia hel­veti­ca infec­tions, but diag­no­sis can prove dif­fi­cult because the microbe does not cause a rash. If untreat­ed or inad­e­quate­ly treat­ed, the two infec­tions share over­lap­ping, seri­ous, and some­times per­sis­tent symp­toms, accord­ing to clin­i­cal researchers. These include debil­i­tat­ing fatigue, severe headaches, mus­cle weak­ness, menin­gi­tis, facial paral­y­sis, and sarcoidosis—a chron­ic inflam­ma­to­ry dis­ease that can cause lung and skin prob­lems. Numer­ous stud­ies have linked Rick­ettsia hel­veti­ca to such ail­ments, although it is not regard­ed as a major pub­lic health per­il in Europe.

    Andrew Main, who con­duct­ed Lyme research at Yale Uni­ver­si­ty in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Steere and Burgdor­fer, had Lyme ear­ly on, before its cause was dis­cov­ered, and was among patients who showed evi­dence of co-infec­tion with the Swiss Agent—a result that was includ­ed in Burgdorfer’s papers but that Main knew noth­ing about until informed by STAT. The pos­i­tive tests for the Swiss Agent among Lyme patients back then, he said, strong­ly sup­port the idea that it might be a cur­rent threat.

    Robert Lane, a Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, med­ical ento­mol­o­gist and Lyme expert who worked close­ly with Burgdor­fer, is respect­ed by both sides in the Lyme wars. He said Rick­ettsia hel­veti­ca could be a sig­nif­i­cant hid­den fac­tor that wors­ens Lyme infec­tions and makes them hard­er to cure.

    “You would want to look at it both ways. Could that organ­ism, if present in some of the Lyme-dis­ease endem­ic areas, infect peo­ple and cause clin­i­cal ill­ness on its own, or react in con­cert with (the microbe that caus­es Lyme) or some of the oth­er agents,” Lane said. “If you are look­ing for one or a few agents in a tick, you may be over­look­ing oth­ers that con­tribute to the dis­ease bur­den.”

    Find­ing the Swiss Agent

    The man who found Lyme’s cause devot­ed his career to study­ing crea­tures some­times described as tiny liv­ing cesspools, for the infec­tious stew of microbes ticks car­ry and trans­mit while suck­ing blood from ani­mals or peo­ple.

    While train­ing for his PhD in his native Basel, Switzer­land, Burgdor­fer became a pre­em­i­nent “tick sur­geon,” as he called himself—dissecting thou­sands with eye scalpels and Swiss watch­mak­er for­ceps. In 1951 he became a research fel­low at the fed­er­al Rocky Moun­tain Lab­o­ra­to­ries, a remote out­post in Montana’s breath­tak­ing Bit­ter­root Val­ley that spe­cial­izes in infec­tious agents.

    Burgdor­fer fell in love with the Bit­ter­root and with Gertrude Dale See—a sec­re­tary and tech­ni­cian at the lab. She won the mul­ti­lin­gual scientist’s heart with her abil­i­ty to speak French. They mar­ried and had two sons, and Burgdor­fer became a US cit­i­zen and per­ma­nent lab employ­ee.

    He rose to lead the work on Rick­ettsia, rod-shaped bac­te­ria spread by ticks that cause ail­ments such as Rocky Moun­tain Spot­ted Fever—which is some­times dead­ly for patients in New Eng­land as well as the West. Burgdor­fer built a glob­al rep­u­ta­tion for his knowl­edge of Rick­ettsia and Borrelia—corkscrew-shaped “spiro­chete” bac­te­ria known for caus­ing syphilis.

    On a trip back to Switzer­land in 1978, Burgdor­fer and a few col­leagues dis­cov­ered in local ticks the pre­vi­ous­ly unknown Swiss Agent—later named Rick­ettsia hel­veti­ca (from Switzerland’s ancient Latin name, Hel­ve­tia). He found the microbe infec­tious for mead­ow voles—a small rodent com­mon in Europe and the Unit­ed States—and dead­ly to chick­en embryos. No one knew then that it also caused ill­ness­es in peo­ple.

    Burgdor­fer returned with sam­ples of infect­ed ticks and Swiss Agent anti­gen, mol­e­cules from the bac­teri­um that can pro­voke an immune response, for fur­ther study. When mixed with blood sera—a part of the blood that doesn’t con­tain blood cells—the anti­gen can show whether a per­son has been infect­ed.

    By then, Steere, a young Yale pro­fes­sor, had for sev­er­al years been aggres­sive­ly inves­ti­gat­ing why some of his patients in Lyme, Conn., were report­ing seri­ous and strange symp­toms of an appar­ent­ly new ill­ness. He had found “that many patients suf­fered not only of arthri­tis, but also of dis­or­ders affect­ing the skin, mus­cu­lar, car­diac, and ner­vous sys­tems,” Burgdor­fer told his offi­cial biog­ra­ph­er from the Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health in 2001.

    Steere asked Burgdor­fer to join the hunt for a tick-borne microbe believed to be at the heart of Lyme. He sent sam­ples of his patients’ blood sera to Rocky Moun­tain Lab­o­ra­to­ries for analy­sis.

    Sera tests showed that at least a dozen Lyme patients had been infect­ed with Swiss Agent, and that at least six oth­ers might have been infect­ed. The records did not make clear how many Lyme patients had been test­ed over­all. Burgdor­fer told Steere and oth­er col­leagues that the results point­ed to a poten­tial cause of Lyme.

    Steere sensed a break­through. “I am excit­ed to pur­sue fur­ther the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a rick­ettsial eti­ol­o­gy of Lyme dis­ease,” he wrote to anoth­er researcher.

    Burgdor­fer was encour­aged, in part, because of the test’s speci­fici­ty: A pos­i­tive result strong­ly sug­gest­ed that the per­son had been infect­ed with the Swiss Agent and not a dif­fer­ent Rick­ettsia such as the one that caus­es Rocky Moun­tain Spot­ted Fever.

    But when a sec­ond test method showed incon­sis­ten­cies, doubts crept in about whether Swiss Agent was linked to Lyme. About 18 months lat­er, Burgdor­fer broke through, pro­vid­ing a rare undis­put­ed fact in what would become the most dis­pu­ta­tious of dis­eases: A spiro­chete caus­es Lyme. Years lat­er, the microbe was named in his hon­or, Bor­re­lia burgdor­feri.

    But he hadn’t giv­en up on Swiss Agent com­plete­ly.

    In the lab dur­ing this peri­od, Burgdor­fer infect­ed US ticks with the Swiss Agent, his lab books show. The records don’t state his exper­i­men­tal goal, but Rocky Moun­tain Lab sci­en­tists often stud­ied which ani­mals and arthro­pods could be infect­ed with dif­fer­ent agents, and thus might be reser­voirs or vec­tors for dis­ease. He also looked for Rick­ettsia in ticks in Lyme-endem­ic areas and found dozens of exam­ples, but often neglect­ed to deter­mine the spe­cif­ic rick­ettsial species.

    In Decem­ber 1981, just a few months after dis­cov­er­ing the Lyme spiro­chete, he wrote to a Swiss col­league who was over­see­ing a young investigator’s defense of his PhD the­sis con­cern­ing the Swiss Agent. Burgdor­fer sug­gest­ed this ques­tion: “Do you feel that ‘Rick­ettsia suisse’ is the eti­o­log­ic agent of (Lyme)? If so, how would you go about prov­ing this?”

    Burgdor­fer and his col­leagues report­ed their dis­cov­ery of the cause of Lyme in the jour­nal Sci­ence in 1982. In a hand­writ­ten draft found among Burgdorfer’s papers, he described iden­ti­fy­ing Rick­ettsia in Lyme patients’ sera and ticks, and his efforts to rule out Rick­ettsia as the cause of Lyme—without nam­ing the Swiss Agent.

    But in the final Sci­ence arti­cle, he made no men­tion of Rick­ettsia. Not a word about pos­si­bly find­ing the Swiss Agent in this coun­try has ever been pub­lished.

    Fin­ish­ing the hunt

    Burgdor­fer retired in 1986 at age 60, just a few years after the suc­cess­ful Lyme hunt put him at the pin­na­cle of his field.

    “I start­ed to real­ize that the research I used to do and was suc­cess­ful in doing has changed its char­ac­ter,” he explained to a Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health biog­ra­ph­er in 2001. “Mol­e­c­u­lar and genet­ic biol­o­gy have replaced the tech­nolo­gies I was able to apply,” he said. “Since I had no basic train­ing in these fields … I was unable to speak and under­stand the com­plete­ly new lan­guage.”

    Those flu­ent in the “new lan­guage” of mol­e­c­u­lar biol­o­gy and genet­ics will be able to fin­ish Burgdorfer’s work, experts said. If the Swiss Agent is here, they can find it.

    The CDC’s Mead said his agency is using mol­e­c­u­lar tech­niques to look for evi­dence of bac­te­ria in 30,000 sera sam­ples from peo­ple sus­pect­ed to have con­tract­ed tick-borne ill­ness­es. If Rick­ettsia hel­veti­ca is in some of the sam­ples, it prob­a­bly will be found, he said. That process will tak­en sev­er­al more years to com­plete.

    Dr. W. Ian Lip­kin, who directs the Cen­ter for Infec­tion and Immu­ni­ty at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, is hunt­ing for virus­es as well as bac­te­ria liv­ing in ticks that spread Lyme, part­ly to under­stand why antibi­otics some­times fail in appar­ent Lyme cas­es.

    Lipkin’s group has col­lect­ed 5,000 ticks from New York and Con­necti­cut. With fund­ing from the Steven and Alexan­dra Cohen Foun­da­tion, he has so far iden­ti­fied 20 new virus­es in these ticks, and is explor­ing whether they have caused harm­ful infec­tions in peo­ple, using tests that can search for a wide range of tick pathogens in a sin­gle sera sam­ple. Even­tu­al­ly, Lip­kin said, this process could make the tests afford­able on a mass scale.

    “Every­one wants to get to the bot­tom of this,” Lip­kin said. “All of this is crit­i­cal to … find­ing out why some peo­ple respond to antibi­otics and some peo­ple don’t, and whether or not the antibi­otics being used are appro­pri­ate, and try­ing to find ways to link dif­fer­ent bac­te­ria and dif­fer­ent virus­es to dif­fer­ent syn­dromes.”

    Lip­kin is seek­ing funds to expand the work to tick-borne bac­te­ria, includ­ing Rick­ettsia.

    Asked whether his meth­ods could find evi­dence of infec­tions with the Swiss Agent, Lip­kin replied with­out hes­i­ta­tion. “The answer is yes,” he said. “If this par­tic­u­lar rick­ettsial species is present, I’m sure we will see it.”

    Willy’s last words

    After he retired, Burgdor­fer sent most of his volu­mi­nous per­son­al files to the Nation­al Archives in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., where they were cat­a­loged for pub­lic view­ing. Those records con­tained some Swiss Agent doc­u­ments. Many more lay untouched for decades in his garage and home office in Hamil­ton, Mont.

    Late in life, Burgdor­fer devel­oped Parkinson’s dis­ease and became increas­ing­ly infirm. A friend lis­tened to his fears that his garage files might be lost to his­to­ry. She urged Burgdor­fer to con­tact Ron Lin­dorf, then an entre­pre­neur and busi­ness pro­fes­sor at Brigham Young Uni­ver­si­ty, who had been sug­gest­ed by col­leagues.

    Ear­ly one morn­ing in June 2014, an agi­tat­ed Burgdor­fer called Lin­dorf with an urgent request: “Come to Mon­tana and get all my research, my files. I want to put it on the inter­net so peo­ple can see it,” Lin­dorf recalled him say­ing.

    Lin­dorf was not a pro­fes­sion­al archivist, but agreed: His chil­dren had suf­fered from seri­ous bouts of Lyme dis­ease, he was eager to help the sci­en­tist who dis­cov­ered Lyme’s cause, and he had the abil­i­ty to take on the com­plex job. The next month Lin­dorf arrived in Hamil­ton, depart­ing two days lat­er with his SUV packed full of old files. That Novem­ber, Burgdor­fer died.

    To bet­ter under­stand the Burgdor­fer archive, Lin­dorf began col­lab­o­rat­ing with New­by, pro­duc­er of “Under Our Skin,” the Lyme doc­u­men­tary. She shared the doc­u­ments with STAT, hop­ing that an inde­pen­dent report would illu­mi­nate a pos­si­bly hid­den risk for Lyme patients and oth­ers.

    Lin­dorf returned to Mon­tana last year to vis­it Burgdorfer’s sec­ond wife. She point­ed across the garage to some addi­tion­al box­es. Inside a card­board port­fo­lio cov­ered in flow­ery fab­ric and closed by a met­al clasp, he found more of the Swiss Agent archives, topped by Burgdorfer’s “I won­dered why some­body didn’t do some­thing” note.

    “It made the hairs on the back of my neck stick up,” Lin­dorf said. “It felt like Willy talk­ing from the grave.”

    Repub­lished with per­mis­sion from STAT. This arti­cle orig­i­nal­ly appeared on Octo­ber 12, 2016

    Posted by Roger Stoned | October 20, 2016, 4:23 pm
  7. The first arti­cle below reports that that that the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives has approved an amend­ment to a bill instruct­ing the Defense Department’s Inspec­tor Gen­er­al to deter­mine if the US had exper­i­ment­ed with Ticks for use as a bioweapon between 1950–1970, and also deter­mine if any escaped from US gov­ern­ment facil­i­ties includ­ing Fort Det­rick, Mary­land, and Plum Island, New York. The sec­ond arti­cle sug­gests that a tick is a very effec­tive vehi­cle to spread dis­eases.


    The Guardian
    Julian Borg­er in Wash­ing­ton
    Tue 16 Jul 2019 18.35 EDT
    House orders Pen­ta­gon to review if it exposed Amer­i­cans to weaponised ticks
    A New Jer­sey law­mak­er sug­gests the gov­ern­ment turned ticks and insects into bioweapons to spread dis­ease and pos­si­bly released them
    The US House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives has called for an inves­ti­ga­tion into whether the spread of Lyme dis­ease had its roots in a Pen­ta­gon exper­i­ment in weapon­is­ing ticks.

    The House approved an amend­ment pro­posed by a Repub­li­can con­gress­man from New Jer­sey, Chris Smith, instruct­ing the defence department’s inspec­tor gen­er­al to con­duct a review of whether the US “exper­i­ment­ed with ticks and … insects regard­ing use as a bio­log­i­cal weapon between the years of 1950 and 1975”.

    The review would have to assess the scope of the exper­i­ment and “whether any ticks or insects used in such exper­i­ment were released out­side of any lab­o­ra­to­ry by acci­dent or exper­i­ment design”.

    The amend­ment was approved by a voice vote in the House and added to a defence spend­ing bill, but the bill still has to be rec­on­ciled with a Sen­ate ver­sion.

    Smith said the amend­ment was inspired by “a num­ber of books and arti­cles sug­gest­ing that sig­nif­i­cant research had been done at US gov­ern­ment facil­i­ties includ­ing Fort Det­rick, Mary­land, and Plum Island, New York, to turn ticks and … insects into bioweapons”.

    A new book pub­lished in May by a Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty sci­ence writer and for­mer Lyme suf­fer­er, Kris New­by, has raised ques­tions about the ori­gins of the dis­ease, which affects 400,000 Amer­i­cans each year.

    Bit­ten: The Secret His­to­ry of Lyme Dis­ease and Bio­log­i­cal Weapons, cites the Swiss-born dis­cov­er­er of the Lyme pathogen, Willy Burgdor­fer, as say­ing that the Lyme epi­dem­ic was a mil­i­tary exper­i­ment that had gone wrong.

    Burgdor­fer, who died in 2014, worked as a bioweapons researcher for the US mil­i­tary and said he was tasked with breed­ing fleas, ticks, mos­qui­toes and oth­er blood-suck­ing insects, and infect­ing them with pathogens that cause human dis­eases.

    Accord­ing to the book, there were pro­grams to drop “weaponised” ticks and oth­er bugs from the air, and that unin­fect­ed bugs were released in res­i­den­tial areas in the US to trace how they spread. It sug­gests that such a scheme could have gone awry and led to the erup­tion of Lyme dis­ease in the US in the 1960s.

    • This arti­cle was amend­ed on 18 July 2019 to clar­i­fy that ticks are not insects.

    In anoth­er Jan­u­ary 25, 2018 Guardian arti­cle titled “For­get Ebo­la, Sars and Zika: ticks are the next glob­al health threat” it reveals what an effec­tive dis­ease pathogen the tick is. The arti­cle states:

    “few par­a­sites are as good at jump­ing between ani­mals and peo­ple as the tick. “… “Ticks can car­ry an extreme­ly wide array of human pathogens, includ­ing bac­te­ria, virus­es, and pro­to­zoa. With­in the long list of human ail­ments caused by ticks, sev­er­al dan­ger­ous dis­eases stand out.”


    Macken­zie Kwak
    Zool­o­gist Macken­zie Kwak’s research focus­es on the bio­geog­ra­phy, sys­tem­at­ics and ecol­o­gy of Aus­tralasian ectopar­a­sites.
    Thu 25 Jan 2018 07.47 EST

    For­get Ebo­la, Sars and Zika: ticks are the next glob­al health threat

    Ticks car­ry a wide array of pathogens – and envi­ron­men­tal changes mean they are spread­ing
    Since the begin­ning of our species we have been at war. It’s a con­tin­u­ous, nev­erend­ing fight against the small­est of adver­saries: armies of pathogens and par­a­sites. As we have devel­oped new ways to sur­vive and stop them, they have evolved ever more com­plex and inge­nious meth­ods to thwart our efforts.

    Humans have faced numer­ous attempts to chal­lenge our dom­i­nance on plan­et Earth , and from the Black Death to the Span­ish flu, we have weath­ered them all. How­ev­er, since the start of the 21st cen­tu­ry, with its trend towards glob­al inter­con­nect­ed­ness, these onslaughts are ever-increas­ing. In the past 17 years we have bat­tled Sars, the Ebo­la virus, Mers, and more recent­ly the mys­te­ri­ous mos­qui­to-borne Zika virus. These dis­eases seem­ing to appear from nowhere and rapid­ly rav­age our pop­u­la­tions. One com­mon­al­i­ty is that they almost always orig­i­nate in ani­mals before jump­ing across to peo­ple, and few par­a­sites are as good at jump­ing between ani­mals and peo­ple as the tick.

    Ticks could be best described as the used syringes of the nat­ur­al world due to their promis­cu­ous feed­ing habits. Most ticks go through three stages in their lives and feed on a dif­fer­ent host at each stage, whilst simul­ta­ne­ous­ly col­lect­ing hitch­hik­ing microbes in their blood meals. Ticks also have one of the widest dis­tri­b­u­tions of any vec­tor on Earth – they can be found on every con­ti­nent, includ­ing frigid Antarc­ti­ca. This com­bi­na­tion of ubiq­ui­ty and a bad habit for accu­mu­lat­ing path­o­gen­ic microbes make ticks some of the most dan­ger­ous vec­tors on the plan­et.
    So why ticks? And why now?

    Part­ly, it’s because ticks have been under­stud­ied for so long that only recent­ly have we begun to realise just how much they affect our health. It took until 1975 for the infa­mous Lyme dis­ease even to be for­mal­ly described, and today the list of microbes found with­in ticks grows ever larg­er every year as numer­ous new species are dis­cov­ered.

    Chang­ing ecosys­tems are also forc­ing ticks into clos­er con­tact with humans. Per­haps the most imme­di­ate changes are being dri­ven by land clear­ing, which is forc­ing wildlife into clos­er con­tact with humans; with wildlife come ticks and the dis­eases they car­ry. Cli­mate change has also been impli­cat­ed: as the cli­mate gets warmer, some ticks are expand­ing their ranges into places where cool win­ter tem­per­a­tures pre­vi­ous­ly lim­it­ed their dis­tri­b­u­tion. Geo­graph­i­cal bound­aries are also being erod­ed as rapid trans­port links envi­ron­ments which were pre­vi­ous­ly iso­lat­ed from one anoth­er. This presents easy oppor­tu­ni­ty for ticks to cross bor­ders and spread to new habi­tats they may not have pre­vi­ous­ly occu­pied. 

    In short, our manip­u­la­tion of the envi­ron­ment has set the stage for a tick-dri­ven health cri­sis.

    Ticks can car­ry an extreme­ly wide array of human pathogens, includ­ing bac­te­ria, virus­es, and pro­to­zoa. With­in the long list of human ail­ments caused by ticks, sev­er­al dan­ger­ous dis­eases stand out. 

    While the recog­ni­tion of Lyme dis­ease has led to a greater study of the bac­te­ria which cause it and more fre­quent test­ing for patients, it has been a dou­ble-edged sword, as its noto­ri­ety has over­shad­owed equal­ly impor­tant dis­eases like tick-borne rick­ettsio­sis (TBR). TBR is caused by a num­ber of dif­fer­ent bac­te­ria dis­trib­uted across the globe. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, TBR often presents with signs and symp­toms sim­i­lar to Lyme dis­ease, such as rash­es, joint and mus­cle pain, and fatigue. Although deaths are rare when TBR is treat­ed with antibi­otics like doxy­cy­cline, when the dis­ease is incor­rect­ly diag­nosed or ade­quate med­ical infra­struc­ture is lack­ing, mor­tal­i­ties can still occur. 

    Babesio­sis is an emerg­ing tick-borne dis­ease caused by a pro­to­zoan called Babesia, a species relat­ed to the microbe which caus­es malar­ia. The dis­ease is rarely test­ed for by doc­tors and the glob­al lev­els of human infec­tion are unknown, although some researchers believe that they may be much high­er than present rates of diag­no­sis indi­cate. Infec­tions can be high­ly vari­able, with about a quar­ter of infect­ed adults show­ing no signs of the dis­ease, while oth­ers will die from the infec­tion. In truth the dis­ease is still poor­ly under­stood in humans, which is com­pound­ed by the fact that sev­er­al species of Babesia cause the dis­ease and the signs and symp­toms can be wide-rang­ing and often include fever, fatigue, anaemia, and nau­sea – all com­mon fea­tures of oth­er ill­ness­es.

    Crimean-Con­go haem­or­rhag­ic fever (CCHF) is per­haps the most ter­ri­fy­ing dis­ease spread by ticks, as there are no treat­ments avail­able, and mor­tal­i­ty rates can be as high as 40% in infect­ed humans. To put it into per­spec­tive, that mor­tal­i­ty rate is sim­i­lar to untreat­ed cas­es of Ebo­la or the bubon­ic plague. The World Health Organ­i­sa­tion views CCHF virus as hav­ing a high chance of caus­ing human dis­ease epi­demics and has accord­ing­ly direct­ed con­sid­er­able fund­ing towards find­ing a treat­ment, although to date none have been devel­oped. The wide dis­tri­b­u­tion of tick vec­tors capa­ble of spread­ing the dis­ease cou­pled with the abil­i­ty of com­mon domes­tic ani­mals such as sheep and cat­tle to main­tain the CCHF virus in their blood at high lev­els means the poten­tial for CCHF to expand into new regions like Europe is high­ly prob­a­ble. 

    While only dis­cov­ered in 2009, SFTS virus (severe fever with throm­bo­cy­tope­nia syn­drome) has sparked wide­spread fear through much of Asia, espe­cial­ly in Japan where 57 peo­ple have died of the dis­ease since 2013. Signs of the dis­ease can range in sever­i­ty from rel­a­tive­ly mild, like fever and diar­rhoea, to severe, which can include mul­ti­ple organ fail­ure. The fact that the epi­demi­ol­o­gy of the dis­ease is so poor­ly known makes pre­dict­ing and con­trol­ling its spread dif­fi­cult. It is also known to be car­ried by at least two cos­mopoli­tan tick species which are spread through­out the world from the UK, to the US, and even Aus­tralia. That might sounds bad enough, but things are even worse: although the dis­ease typ­i­cal­ly gets to humans via a tick, from there it can spread to oth­er humans or their pets and back again into ticks who feed on infect­ed hosts.

    Ticks are ubiq­ui­tous, dan­ger­ous, and are com­ing into ever greater con­tact with us. We must recog­nise that the next pub­lic health cri­sis may come from our back­yards rather than a remote equa­to­r­i­al jun­gle in Africa or Asia.

    Posted by Mary Benton | July 23, 2019, 6:13 pm

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