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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Lyme Disease Researcg Breakthroughs: Lecture Details

    In the late 1970s, scientists were faced with a mystery epidemic that stirred panic throughout several tri-state communities. Then, experts believed that there were three possible causes of the epidemic: babesiosis, the deer tick, and Lyme disease.

    Jorge Benach, Ph.D, was quick to point out several critical discoveries that helped pave the way for scientists. Benach and his fellow research scientists had found evidence linking Lyme disease, which was originially identified inLyme,Connecticut, with spirochete bacteria.

    Twenty years after his monumental discovery appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, Benach presented his, and SBU’s story to the public at this year’s first Provost Lecture. OnSept. 16, 2003, he recapped the critical events leading up to the landmark findings he and his colleagues had published in 1983.

    In his lecture “Lyme Disease at Stony Book: A Twenty Year Story,” Benach explained that Lyme disease became well known to the public when multiple cases began to appear in the 1970s.

    A professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at SBU and director at the Center for Infectious Diseases, Benach saved several newspaper clippings and headlines, such as “Spotted Fever Death Reported” and “Seven Tick Fever Cases Confirmed inSuffolkCounty.”

    Caused by a tick transmitted by dogs, these cases sent shockwaves through local communities. Politicians such as New York State Congressman Hugh Carey, who later became governor ofNew York, were inspired to “launch a campaign combating the disease,” Benach said. When headlines broke that a malaria-like disease had struck two onLong Island, the public recognized that this was “a severe disease, associated with an insular environment.”

    The case inConnecticuthowever, was not the beginning of the disease itself. According to Benach, Lyme disease was always here, but only became an epidemic when certain new factors were introduced into the setting. He listed several possibilities, such as “more people moving into tick territory, an increase in deer population, an invasion ofLong Islandby the Lone Star tick, amblyomma americanum, and the banning of chlorinated hydrocarbon’ (DDT). DDT created a control for ticks, and after banning it, the population grew tremendously.

    Most people today do not recall how serious the disease was when it was spreading throughout the 1970s and 1980s. “I don’t remember much about Lyme disease, except that one of my teachers had it, and lost her vision in one eye, ” said freshman Katrina Theodorou.

    “Lyme disease is a new disease of man,” Benach said. He revealed that a “tick bite can go unnoticed, from a localized disease to disseminated diseases, such as arthritis, cardiac disease and neurobovreliosis.”

    “It doesn’t seem as serious as it really is,” said sophomore Faria Mustafa. Despite such grave consequences, there is still no definitive protection against lyme disease, and antibiotics have not been effective in treating Lyme disease-related symptoms. Benach revealed thatNew Yorkaccounts for 36 percent of allUScases of Lyme disease, andSuffolkCountyalone accounts for approximately one eigth ofNew YorkStatecases.

    Stony Brook contributed greatly to research regarding Lyme disease according to Benach. The university is well known for its contributions to medical science.

    ‘ Today, Stony Brook is the regional center for the treatment of babesiosis, one of the primary sources of Lyme disease. Benach’s research has made a considerable contribution to the study and treatment of the illness.

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