The history of
Lyme disease, a contagious condition caused by Borrelia burgdorferi transmitted to man by ticks offers infectiologists a formidable lesson on how medicine progresses. Clinical description started in Europe at the turn of the century with Pick’s description of what was then labelled chronic atrophic acrodermatitis. Fifty years later Hauser noted the affection was transmitted by ticks. Independently, Afzelius, then Lipschutz, described erythema chronicum migrans and its relationship with tick bites. Neurological involvement was also described with the skin signs. These early dermatological descriptions suddenly came into the limelight in 1975 when an epidemia of arthritis occurred in children in
Lyme, Connecticut, USA. Many of the affected children had erythema chronicum migrans. Based on these observations and an epidemiological analysis of the epidemia, Steele and co-workers defined ”
Lyme disease” as a rheumatological disorder commonly associated with erythema chronicum migrans and sometimes with multiple organ involvement. In 1982 Borgdorfer suggested that tick bites transmitted a Spirochaeta which was later authentified as the causal agent: Borrelia burgdorferi. Immunofluorescence and ELISA tests were rapidly developed for the diagnosis of infection by this germ which is very difficult to culture. Antibiotic curative treatment was immediately available and in 1991 a consensus conference established recommendations for treatment of isolated and disseminated forms. Antibiotic prophylaxis is not necessary but rapid extraction of the tick after the bite can prevent the
disease as transmission from tick to man takes several hours. And medical progress continues. Work is now being conducted on evaluating the extent of late neurological manifestations, on developing polymerase chain reaction methods to identify B. burgdorferi infection in specific organs and on developing a vaccine.