Connecticut Discovered Lyme Disease – Who Knew?
Newspaper clipping featuring text and an image of two men

Stephen Malawista and Robert Schoen respond to reporters' questions during a press conference on Lyme Disease, 1998 - Southern Connecticut State University

…that Lyme Disease was discovered in 1975 in Lyme, Connecticut.

In 1975, numerous children and adults around Lyme, Connecticut, began reporting arthritic-like symptoms. It was two mothers, however—Polly Murray and Judith Mensch—who advocated for more investigation after their children’s inadequate diagnoses of juvenile arthritis. Both women contacted state public health officials who directed them to Dr. Allen Steere at Yale University. The unusual clustering of cases—numerous cases within families, occurrence near heavily wooded areas, seasonal distribution, and often an unusual bullseye skin lesion—made doctors and public health officials suspicious. The Connecticut Department of Health and Yale University School of Medicine conducted a joint epidemiologic survey in Lyme and the surrounding towns to find more cases, identify the infectious agent, and describe the new disease.

The similarities between the unknown disease and erythema migrans (EM)—a known disease in Europe sometimes associated with tick bites—made Steere and his colleague, Dr. Stephen Malawista, hypothesize ticks as a source for what they initially named “Lyme arthritis.” By 1978, Steere and Malawista proved the transmission of Lyme Disease by deer ticks and in 1984 Yale School of Medicine hosted the first International Conference on Lyme Disease. Two years earlier, in 1982, an entomologist in Montana, Wilhelm “Willy” Burgdorfer, discovered the bacterium that causes Lyme Disease—Borrelia burgdorferi.

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