Pfeiffer leaves no stone unturned in this comprehensively researched, cogently argued, and timely reappraisal of Lyme disease. Ranging from the global to the anecdotal, the political to the personal and the historical to the scientific, she makes a compelling case for the link between changes in environmental factors, the worldwide expansion of tick territory, and the growing threat from one of the fastest spreading tick-borne diseases in the twenty-first century. In so doing, the author is ahead of the curve.
What Pfeiffer unearths is the stuff of nightmares (or as one reviewer has previously described it, something worthy of a Stephen King novel). Our planet is warming, arthropods are evolving, proliferating and migrating, Lyme infections in people are multiplying at an alarming rate (perhaps millions each year), multitudes cannot recover their health, some are dying, but national institutions responsible for protecting the public from the disease, and providing guidance on diagnosing and treating the infection, appear to be entrenched in dogma and denial; or as the author states, living in an “echo chamber”.
This excellent, objective, evidence-based investigation is thorough and makes harrowing observations: Earth-impacting environmental shifts are affecting seasons, natural habitats and biosystems, to the benefit of ticks that are spreading, breeding and surviving, even in extremis. With fewer natural predators and a generally warmer climate, arthropods are experiencing a boom time. There is also a huge problem with the survival mechanisms and persistence of the bacteria Borrelia itself, not to mention the underestimation of co-infections which ticks can also transmit in their bites. Together and separately, these wreak havoc inside the human body, maiming many, sometimes leading to death, including through suicide. “We simply don’t know how many die from Lyme and tick-borne disease”, Pfeiffer writes, “because no systematic effort has been made to look.”
Punctuated by heart-breaking stories of Lyme patients, past and present, this book brings home to the reader just how personally devastating Lyme and co-infections can be, encapsulating the frustration felt by many who are left as collateral damage in the ‘Lyme wars’. During her investigations, Pfeiffer pops the lid off this particular can of worms, describing “a medical landscape that is breathtakingly controversial…dysfunctional, one characterized less by warring sides than by parallel universes”. She argues that “a tapestry of myths has been woven” around Lyme disease by influential organisations such as the Center for Disease Control in America i.e. it is overdiagnosed, testing is reliable, it’s hard to get, and easy to treat. The author explores and explodes each of these four myths, advocating a more transparent, scientifically-balanced and humane approach to both the illness and the patient.
As such, Lyme, The First Epidemic of Climate Change is an impressive, all-encompassing and compassionate call for transformation in national and international responses to Lyme disease, not least the need for greater funding and research, and more practically, for a necessary medical re-think regarding flawed diagnostics, testing and treatment. “It is time to recognize a problem exists,” Pfeiffer says, “and find out what does work.”
Persuasive and moving, this timely book is a wake-up call we ignore at our peril.
[Publish date: April 17, 2018]
©A. F. McGuinness