Lyme Disease Treatment | One Woman's Quest for Answers
And then I met Marjorie Tietjen, a sweet-natured woman who lives with her husband and son in a house in the woods of Killingworth, Connecticut. Marjorie, who has suffered from Lyme since 1989, calls herself a Lyme activist. I’d read her articles on the Web and was impressed by her wealth of information. She welcomed me to her home. Like almost every other Lyme patient I’d visited, she had stacks of papers and folders piled on the dining room table.
Marjorie had her own story to tell me, but she also had a book she wanted to give me: Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government’s Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory by Michael Christopher Carroll (HarperCollins, 2004).
Carroll discovered that Plum Island, which sits in eastern Long Island Sound, was set up after World War II with the help of Erich Traub, a German germ warfare expert. During the war, Traub had operated a lab on an island in the Baltic Sea. Islands, it was thought, were ideal for such research, as they’re self-limiting. But we know now that that’s an illusion. As Carroll points out: “Plum Island lies in the middle of the Atlantic flyway, the bird migration highway that runs between breeding grounds and winter homes from the Caribbean to the Florida coast, up the East Coast to the icy reaches of Greenland. In addition, deer swim back and forth between the island and the mainland.”
Compiling information received through the Freedom of Information Act, Carroll details Plum Island’s shadowy netherworld: virus outbreaks, biological meltdowns, infected workers, contaminated raw waste flushed into the Sound … and experimental tick colonies, bred for research on vector-borne diseases.
As the big white ferry New London pushes forward into deep water, steel-gray clouds hide the sky. The trip to Long Island takes about an hour and a half, and midway through our journey, on the port side, Plum Island appears, crowned with a water tower and edged with large, flat-roofed buildings. Off the island’s shores, fishing boats and pleasure craft bob. At its tip, a picturesque granite-based lighthouse sits, like a photo on a postcard.
On the map, Plum Island lies like an arrow, one end pointing toward the Connecticut coast and other toward Long Island’s North Fork. At the same time that Polly Murray and many others in that area were beginning to experience bizarre symptoms, Plum Island’s germ research was up and running. Birds, stopping on Plum Island, often flew next to either Montauk (on the South Fork) or Lyme, where the rich estuaries of the terminus of the Connecticut River lured them. Initially, the highest incidences of the disease were in Lyme and surrounding towns, and at the tip of Long Island.
Lab 257 has been shut down, but other labs on the island perk along. If infected ticks did escape from this island, they’ve long since done the damage and nothing can stop them now; Borrelia burgdorferi is out and about, doing its job, making people sick.
And as it spreads, physicians and researchers continue to squabble among themselves: Some say that long-term antibiotics are the only treatment for Lyme disease, while the more conventional among them advocate only short doses of antibiotics — and believe that if a patient needs a longer protocol, the illness must not be Lyme. Insurance coverage is often denied.
One way to stop an epidemic is to redefine it. Recent guidelines issued by the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) have narrowed the disease’s diagnostic criteria so tightly that it’s hard for any chronically ill Lyme patient to fit the profile — leaving thousands of people robbed of an answer.