Article by Mark Johnson of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 9, 2017

Why Lyme/MSIDS Research Isn’t Getting Anywhere…..

In 2012 a 5 year old orangutan named Mahal died a mysterious death. He had an enlarged spleen and liver overrun with small gray bubbles. This death led to a three year investigation that included intricate pathology work with a full necropsy with microscopy.

The need for this work was seemingly propelled by the fear of zoonotic infection which is a disease that jumps from the primate to humans. According to Johnson 60% of the emerging infectious diseases identified since 1940 are zoonotic accounting for 2.5 billion cases of human illness and 2.7 million deaths.

Veterinary pathologist at UW Madison, Annette Gendron, performed the necropsy. She’s the one who discovered numerous organs were overrun by cysts, as well as the lungs causing an official death of acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Hitting a dead end, she contacted a fellow UW colleague, Tony Goldberg due to his work on hepatocystis, a single-cell parasite transmitted by midges.

For Lyme/MSIDS patients, this is where the story gets interesting….

Six months before Mahal died and after returning home from working in western Uganda, Goldberg struggled with a dull ache in his nose that became excruciating. Finally looking into a mirror, he discovered a fully engorged tick. DNA testing revealed a new species of tick of which Goldberg co-authored, “Coincident Tick Infestations in the Nostrils of Wild Chimpanzees and a Human in Uganda,” published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Onto the orangutan’s death…

What finally led Goldberg to the guilty pathogen was by subtracting Mahal’s genetic sequence from that of another orangutan’s. What remained was the genetic signature of the culprit – a cestode, or tapeworm, but the sequence revealed it was a brand new tapeworm.

The discovery explained the little gray bubbles – tapeworms in the larval stage.

And the very day Goldberg got his answer he also discovered that scientists found the tapeworm group, Versteria, inside bodies of weasels in Japan and Finland. In 2014 Goldberg and co-authors published that Mahal died from a new species of tapeworm in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The story didn’t end there – they had to find out how Mahal managed to contract a tapeworm from around the globe. Through a bizarre set of circumstances a student in Colorado (where Mahal came from originally) found tapeworms resembling Versteria in an ermine, and researchers in Oregon found similar tapeworms in a mink. Once again DNA sequencing revealed Mahal likely ingested genetically similar tapeworms in Colorado before he was transited to the Milwaukee Zoo.

Three and a half years after Mahal’s death, Goldberg and colleagues wrote a second paper in Emerging Infectious Diseases telling the origin of the tapeworm larvae.

The Sentinel article shows graphics of the Aedes aegypti mosquito and the various diseases it carries – all of which are rare to nonexistent in Wisconsin. It lists major outbreaks going all the way back to the Spanish flu up to the recent Zika Virus – which WI mosquitos can’t carry. It shows graphics on West Nile with information on transmission, geographical regions, symptoms, and that 44,000 cases have been reported in the U.S. since 1999, but few mosquitos actually carry the virus & 80% of the infected never experience symptoms & the remaining 20% have mild illness It shows “outbreaks with little attention” including Yellow Fever, Cholera, Measles, and Dengue – all rare to nonexistent in Wisconsin. There were also graphics of tapeworms, diseases they carry, with graphics showing no cases in North America.

But the elephant in the room, Lyme Disease/MSIDS, the most common vector borne illness in the U.S., with Wisconsin 6th in the nation, is only mentioned as an afterthought when a researcher got a tick in his nose.

The Lyme Disease Association is stating that yearly new cases of Lyme Disease are approaching 400,000 in the U.S. That’s new cases. Wisconsin and other states are filled with folks who are chronically infected, yet the CDC denies it all – which means most of these people don’t even make into the statistics.

I love monkeys as much as the next person, but if one-fourth of the resources spent on this monkey were spent on Lyme/MSIDS patients, we’d have some answers.

Please, I beg, start doing meaningful research on a disease(es) you can get in your backyard that is causing thousands of Wisconsinites untold pain, suffering, and yes, even death.