The House of Representatives passed an amendment offered by Cong. Chris Smith (R-NJ) which asks the Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Defense to look into the “possible involvement of DOD biowarfare labs in the weaponization of Lyme disease in ticks and other insects” from 1950-1975.
According to Smith, he was “inspired to write the amendment”—now part of the House-passed 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)—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.”
During debate on the floor, Smith said that, “The most recent book—Bitten: The Secret History of Lyme Disease and Biological Weapons—includes interviews with Dr. Willy Burgdorfer—the researcher who is credited with discovering Lyme disease. The book reveals that Dr. Burgdorfer was a bioweapons specialist. Those interviews combined with access to Dr. Burgdorfer’s lab files suggest that he and other bioweapons specialists stuffed ticks with pathogens to cause severe disability, disease—even death—to potential enemies.”
“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 10-20 percent of all patients suffering from chronic Lyme disease—Americans have a right to know whether any of this is true. And have these experiments caused Lyme disease and other tick-borne disease to mutate and to spread?” Smith asked.
“My amendment tasks the DOD Inspector General to ask the hard questions and report back,” he said. During debate on his amendment, Smith said the investigation would explore such questions as:
• “what were the parameters of the program?
• who ordered it?
• was there ever any accidental release anywhere or at any time of any diseased ticks?
• were any ticks released by design?
• did the program contribute to the disease burden?
• can any of this information help current-day researchers find a way to mitigate these diseases?”
Smith has a long record of fighting for people suffering from Lyme disease. He is the author of the pending bipartisan, bicameral TICK Act introduced earlier this year to create a whole-of-government national strategy to aggressively fight Lyme disease. The TICK Act (Ticks: Identify, Control, Knockout Act) (HR 3073) authorizes an additional $180 million to boost funding for Lyme research, prevention and treatment programs.
Smith—who is the founding co-chair of the House Lyme Disease Caucus along with Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN)—said the bill provides $60 million over five years to reauthorize the Regional Centers of Excellence in Vector Borne Disease which have led the scientific response against tick-borne diseases. And the bill 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. The legislation is supported by more than 25 non-government organizations dedicated to combating Lyme.
In June, the House of Representatives adopted two other Smith amendments to boost funding for combating Lyme disease. One amendment, (Division C of H.R. 2740, adopted June 18th), adds $2 million to the DOD’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) for Tick-Borne Disease Research which primarily helps service personnel and their families exposed to Lyme. The program is currently funded at $5 million.
On June 12th, the House adopted Smith’s amendment to add $1 million for Lyme disease research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC currently spends $11 million on Lyme research.
This spring, Smith hosted a Congressional town meeting on Lyme disease in Wall Township, NJ, featuring a panel of national experts including Dr. Ben Beard, Deputy Director of the Division on Vector-Borne Diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control; Pat Smith, President of the Lyme Disease Association; and Dr. Richard Horowitz, an Internist and expert in treating patients with Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.