Lyme disease - what is the real cause?
1st February, 2004
According to the World Health Organisation, more than 30 serious new diseases have emerged in the last three decades. Mark Walters describes one of them, Lyme disease, and shows how our destruction of the environment is inextricably linked to its proliferation
Hunterdon County was a sleepy backwater when John Beckley arrived in 1985. Since then it has been transformed into a sprawling New Jersey suburb of more than 120,000 people. ‘I thought I was coming to a quiet rural county,’ Beckley, Hunterdon’s director of public health, told me. ‘We had an environmental staff of four, and spent most of our time inspecting or issuing permits for septic systems and wells – a dozen or so a week. Since then, my job’s gotten a lot more interesting.’
Just months after Beckley’s arrival New Jersey reported its first case of HIV. In 1986 Hunterdon County had its first cases of Legionnaire’s disease. Then in 1989 Beckley’s office began receiving reports of raccoons behaving strangely; the animals were wandering across the county’s highways and into people’s yards to attack their dogs. ‘It turned out to be the first outbreak of terrestrial rabies in the state in nearly half a century,’ Beckley said. Ten years later West Nile virus arrived.
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