‘Swiss Agent’ Research Unearths New Lyme Disease Mystery
If you know anyone with Lyme, you know it can be a devastating illness. I
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 Lyme1, 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.