August 17, 2019
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A Republican congressman wants to know if the military weaponized ticks

Victoria Arocho | AP
Victoria Arocho | AP
This March 2002 file photo shows a deer tick under a microscope in the entomology lab at the University of Rhode Island in South Kingstown, Rhode Island.

Did the U.S. military experiment on ticks in order to turn them into a potent biological weapon, and then release it on an unsuspecting public? It sounds like a plot right out of “The X-Files,” but a Republican congressman wants the Pentagon to reveal if these experiments happened.

U.S. Rep. Christopher H. Smith, R-New Jersey, sponsored a resolution that directs the Defense Department’s inspector general to determine whether the military “experimented with ticks and other insects regarding use as biological weapons between 1950 and 1975.”

If so, the resolution requires the inspector general to send a report to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees detailing that work and whether any weaponized ticks were released “by accident or experiment design.”

The House passed that resolution in a voice vote on Thursday during a debate on a defense authorization bill, CQ Roll Call reports.

Related: Ticks on migratory birds

President Richard Nixon banned government research into chemical and biological weapons in 1969, but Smith’s resolution aims to uncover whether there is truth to rumors that such research continued at Fort Detrick in Maryland and Plum Island in New York.

“With Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases exploding in the United States, with an estimated 300,000 to 437,000 new cases each year and 10 to 20 percent of all patients suffering from chronic lyme disease, I believe Americans have a right to know whether any of this is true,” Smith said on the House floor ahead of last week’s vote.

Smith’s resolution came in response to the release earlier this year of Kris Newby’s sensational book “Bitten: The Secret History of Lyme Disease and Biological Weapons” that alleges lyme disease is connected to Defense Department research.

“If this [book] this is true — and the documentation is very persuasive — we were doing bio-weapons work that was grossly immoral,” Smith, a member of the Congressional Lyme Disease Caucus, told the Asbury Park Press in May. “It’s a shocking read, and I hope it adds to our push. Looking at what happened might help us come up with how we deal with it now.”

[How you can repel disease-carrying ticks without any chemicals]

Scientists, though, have dismissed suggestions that lyme disease originated in a government laboratory, noting that the bacteria that causes the contagion in humans was present in North America before European colonization, according to the American Lyme Disease Foundation.

So far this year, Maine has seen an abundance of ticks, as the damp weather conditions have been favorable to them. The state’s most notorious tick — the lyme disease-carrying black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick — is highly susceptible to hot, dry weather that will send it seeking shelter rather than looking for people or animals to bite.

“The real kicker is that it’s been a very damp spring, and the damp helps ticks survive,” Chuck Lubelczyk, a field biologist for the Maine Medical Center Research Institute’s Lyme and Vector-Borne Disease Laboratory, told the BDN earlier this year. “If it stays damp and rainy as it has been, we can expect a fairly normal to healthy season for ticks.”

Whether Smith’s resolution will make it to President Donald Trump’s desk is unclear. The Senate passed a defense authorization bill without that language, leaving it to the two chambers to reconcile the bill’s differences, according to CQ Roll Call.

Related: One way to find ticks in your yard

 



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