German physician Alfred Buchwald had no clue that the chronic skin inflammation he described in 1883 was the first recorded case of a serious tick-carrying disease, one that would take hold in a small Connecticut town almost a century later and go on to afflict people across the United States.
Today we know a lot more than Buchwald did about Lyme disease — that it is caused by a bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, and it is transmitted to humans by blacklegged ticks, and that it can cause untold misery for those infected. U.S. scientists first recognized the disease in the 1970s in Old Lyme, Connecticut — hence the name. The condition starts with fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic bullseye rash. Untreated, it can spread to the joints, the heart, and nervous system producing long-lasting, debilitating symptoms. Early use of antibiotics is crucial.
About 300,000 Americans are diagnosed annually with Lyme, with cases concentrated in the Northeast and upper Midwest, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The incidence of the disease has doubled in the United States since 1991, according to the EPA. And it’s about to get much worse, thanks to climate change.