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In order to investigate the potential for Borrelia burgdorferi infection before the recognition of
Lyme disease as a clinical entity, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was used to examine museum specimens of Ixodes dammini (deer ticks) for the presence of spirochete-specific DNA sequences. One hundred and thirty-six archival tick specimens were obtained representing various continental U.S. locations; DNA sequences characteristic of modern day isolates of B. burgdorferi were detected in 13 1940s specimens from Montauk Point and Hither Hills, Long Island, New York. Five archival specimens of Dermacentor variabilis (dog tick) from the same collection and 118 Ixodes specimens from other endemic and nonendemic sites were negative. These data suggest that the appearance of the
Lyme disease spirochete in suitable arthropod vectors preceded, by at least a generation, the formal recognition of this
disease as a clinical entity in the United States.