Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change
Mary Beth Pfeiffer
An ancient monster has been awakened from its unquiet slumber by the arrogant foolishness of humans, and is now coming to feed on you and your children, while scientists and government officials sit back and do nothing, or actively distribute misinformation.
The plot of the latest supernatural horror film? No, this is the non-fiction book “Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change.” In it Mary Beth Pfeiffer chronicles the rise of Lyme disease from a rare curiosity to a fast-growing menace that is destroying millions of lives even as it is downplayed and ignored by the mainstream medical community.
As the title makes clear, Pfeiffer argues that the spread of Lyme disease and other related tick-borne illnesses is linked with climate change, although she presents a more complicated picture than that. She describes how ticks are now surviving in regions that would have been intolerable for them even 20 or 30 years ago, showing up on mountain tops and the Arctic, bleeding moose to death in the deep bush and attacking suburban kindergarteners during recess with equal fervor and success. She also discusses how the reintroduction of small plots of forest in suburban areas, full of dense brush and small rodents, but lacking in predators, has led to a situation in which humans come into contact with ticks on an unprecedented scale, even as tick season expands and expands: Pfeiffer opens the book with the story of finding 21 ticks on her dogs after a walk on the day after Christmas.
Pfeiffer also chronicles the false starts and blind alleys of the research into Lyme disease, the problems with the tests for it (spoiler alert: they’re not very reliable, as I can attest from personal experience), the controversy surrounding treatment options and the fact that many people (like me!) seem to need months or years of antibiotics to make even small improvement, and never recover completely, a problem compounded by the refusal of many doctors to treat such patients, or even admit that their illness is real.
“Lyme” is an excellent overview of the state of Lyme disease around the world for the lay person, and the complexity surrounding attempts to deal with it (Are deer part of the problem or are they actually reducing the spread of Lyme disease? How do you test for a disease that many times can’t be cultured from a blood sample? What do you do when doctors, intentionally or not, lie to your face?).
It’s also a frightening book, and it’s meant to be. Pfeiffer is a vivid, compelling writer, and she issues a clear challenge in the final chapter, telling us:
“This is an epidemic. It is global and dangerous. It is spreading to new places on earth and affecting places in the human body, the brain for one, in ways that are not fully understood. History teaches us that medicine sometimes clings fiercely to convictions that are ultimately proven wrong. Lyme disease is one such time. Believe this, because ticks are out there…On balance, they have power far greater than our own.”
If you already have Lyme disease or know someone affected by it, this book will most likely ring true for you. If you don’t (yet) have Lyme disease, this book will mostly likely be in turns fascinating, enlightening, and terrifying.
Scared? You should be.