Friday, July 29, 2022

A Breathless Article on Lyme

The Nation has a cover on Lyme Disease, which is weird unto itself, as The Nation is an unapologetically leftist publication devoted to politics and policy.

True to form, the article starts with a thesis which is that:

Lyme and other tick-borne pathogens have emerged from ecosystems that have been disturbed, fragmented, and fractured by intensive human development. Ballooning deer populations, second-growth forests, suburban and exurban growth, habitat degradation, predator eradication, wildlife extinction—these and other factors have set the stage for the surging presence of Lyme and its zoonotic cousins among us.

So Lyme Disease is caused by humans meddling with the environment?

No it's not.

As the article notes (buried a bit too deeply, I think):

[T]here is now plenty of evidence indicating that Borrelia burgdorferi has been on this continent in various forms for thousands of years (as it has been in Europe). According to a 2017 study in the journal Nature, Ecology, and Evolution in which scientists sequenced nearly 150 different Borrelia burgdorferi genomes, the bacteria are “ancient.” They have been evolving in North America for roughly 60,000 years and were historically widespread across the Northeast and Midwest.

OK.  So Lyme has been around the US longer than people have.  Huh.

So what horror have we humans done to fan the flames of Lyme disease?

Well, we have allowed the forest to regrow, which has produced nuts and seeds, which have provided food for white-footed deer mice, which are the zoonotic reservoir for Borrelia burgdorferi.

That's the.... horror.  

That's the cause of the "apocalypse" touted on the magazine cover. 

Another horror: We stopped shooting every deer to the point that white tail deer were almost extinct in Virginia, the state they were named after.

Bastards causing all this... apocalypse.

Not noted:  Lyme disease is mostly asymptomatic in both people and dogs, and when symptoms do appear, the disease is generally cheap and easy to cure with common antibiotics.

Huh.  I guess that fact does not fit the "apocalypse" frame.

Also note noted: the deer population in the US is about what it was in pre-Columbian times, and the red fox population (the animal that most frequently preys on deer mice) is at record levels in the absence of wolves and mountain lions.

So what's going on with this article beyond the need to suggest humans are screwing up the environment?  

Two things:

  • A shifting or disappearing base line.
    If white tail deer populations were large in pre-Columbian times (and they were), and open forests were maintained by native people through the use of fire (and they were), who is to say that Lyme disease infection rates among native people were not as high -- or higher -- than among today's suburban walkers?  In fact, that scenario is very likely but, in the absence of microbiologists collecting blood, who would know?  Uncas is feeling tired?  A bit lame? Has a little arthritis? In a world where half the population was dead by age 35, bones were broken without being set, and minor wounds led to sepsis, who was paying attention to small ailments?  No one!

  • A pathological affection for stasis.
    Romantic environmentalists love stasis. In their mind, nothing should ever change.  No animal or plant species should decline in numbers, nor should they dramatically increase in numbers. Trees should not be cut down, nor should they change species or composition. Dams should not be built, all introduced species should be exterminated, climate should not shift, and genetically-modified crops should not be created, and never mind if all that has occurred for millennia
Bottom line:  If you really want a headline, even good news can be the herald of the apocalypse. Antibiotic and vaccines are keeping is healthy longer?  Social
Security is going to go bankrupt!  Interest rates are low?  Senior citizen coupon clippers are going to go broke!  Interest rates are high?  How will Generation Z ever afford a house? 

And on it goes…

1 comment:

PipedreamFarm said...

Asymptomatic infections are still infections and may be impacting the body without patients or doctors recognizing the impacts (hence asymptotic).

"The true prevalence of Lyme carditis is unknown, because most of these cases are clinically asymptomatic."

source: Lyme carditis: Epidemiology, pathophysiology, and clinical features
in endemic areas. Pawel Rostoff, Grzegorz Gajos, Ewa Konduracka, Andrzej Gackowski,Jadwiga Nessler, Wieslawa Piwowarska
International Journal of Cardiology, VOLUME 144, ISSUE 2, P230-231, OCTOBER 08, 2010.