Saturday, May 1, 2010

Dr. Burgdorfer Explains Existence Of Chronic Lyme Disease And Similarity To Syphilis

Dr. Burgdorfer: I discovered the agent producing Lyme disease, so they called it Borrelia burgdorferi, after my name, Willy Burgdorfer. The initial findings were published right away in Science magazine. And even today, [this discovery] is considered a breakthrough in spirochetal research. There are many laboratories that are using our techniques, applying them to syphilis, because of similarities.

Andy Wilson: What are the similarities between Borrelia burgdorferi and syphilis?

Dr. Burgdorfer: The similarities that I know of are associated with the infection of the brain , the nervous system. The syphilis spirochete, Treponema pallidum has an affinity for nerve tissues. The Borrelia burgdorferi spirochete very likely has that too. Children are especially sensitive to Borrelia burgdorferi.
The Lyme disease spirochete is far more virulent than syphilis. We don’t know the end yet. And [we] can’t even make a [blood] smear with Borrelia burgdorferi and see the organism. It’s there. But you don’t see it. You cannot find this spirochete. Why not? After all, I have a sick person here. He is trembling all over. His spinal fluid is full of spirochetes. But when it comes to blood, it’s not there. So there is something associated with this organism that makes it different.

Andy Wilson: Why is Borrelia burgdorferi so hard to find in the body and culture outside the body?

Dr. Burgdorfer: Borrelia burgdorferi in the tissues of a patient is extremely difficult to demonstrate, because, first of all, you don’t like somebody to take samples out of your brain [to look] for spirochetes. The same with other tissues. Every system in your body can be infected with spirochete. But to prove that is extremely difficult. It demands surgical work, which is very expensive.

Andy Wilson: Are you a believer in the idea of persistent Lyme infections?

Dr. Burgdorfer: I am a believer in persistent infections because people suffering with Lyme disease, ten or fifteen or twenty years later, get sick [again]. Because it appears that this organism has the ability to be sequestered in tissues and [it] is possible that it could reappear, bringing back the clinical manifestations it caused in the first place. These are controversial issues for microbiologists, as well as the physicians who are asked to treat patients.
The team who filmed UNDER OUR SKIN had an unexpected visitor from a top researcher at the nearby Rocky Mountain Laboratories, a biolevel-4 NIH research facility.
Standing at the door, the government official said, “I’ve been told that I need to supervise this interview. This comes from the highest levels. There are things that Willy can’t talk about.”
The film crew was incredulous. “We were stunned. After all, Dr. Burgdorfer had been retired from the lab since 1986. We were there to talk t o a private citizen, about the history of a very public discovery that had put him on the short list for a Nobel Prize. Earlier that year, the NIH had refused our requests to interview any of their Lyme researchers. What was going on? Why would the NIH want to censor information about the fastest growing bug-borne disease in the United States?”
Fortunately, our iron-willed film director, Andy Abrahams Wilson, turned the NIH handler away, and what followed was an amazingly candid interview about Lyme disease—its dangers and its controversies.”
Soon after the camera was turned off and the crew began packing up their gear, Dr. Burgdorfer told the film team with a sly smile, “I didn’t tell you everything.”

Willy Burgdorfer, Ph.D., M.D., and Scientist Emeritus at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), lives in Hamilton, Montana.

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