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House Backs Probe of Whether Military Used Ticks to Spread Lyme Disease

Lawmaker hopes to push efforts for a cure
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 16, 2019 7:34 PM CDT
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., speaks to supporters during the Monmouth GOP Super Saturday campaign drive last year in Colts Neck, N.J.   (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

(Newser) – A measure in Congress calls for an investigation into whether the military tried to put pathogens into ticks so they could be used as biological weapons. Rep. Chris Smith hopes a probe could answer whether the chronic illness was spread in this country by a weapons program and possibly lead to a cure, the Asbury Park Press reports. "My hope is, this jump-starts a very aggressive effort to find a cure and see how this (Lyme disease) is growing. It’s pushing out into the Great Lakes area. It’s exploding everywhere," the New Jersey Republican said. The investigation mandate has been added to the defense spending bill by the House, but Senate negotiators would have to approve keeping it in the bill. If it stays, the Pentagon's inspector general would have to report to the House and Senate whether any weaponized ticks were released into the environment—intentionally or not.

Smith said he was influenced by "a number of books and articles suggesting that significant research had been done at US government facilities, including Fort Detrick, Maryland, and Plum Island, New York, to turn ticks and other insects into bioweapons." Experts have doubted the theories, per CBS, which include the possibility that the CDC was in on a cover-up. Either way, Smith has been a staunch advocate of increased efforts to fight Lyme disease; the CDC says about 30,000 new cases are reported to it each year. Smith has also introduced a bill to set a national strategy for combating Lyme disease, which would include $180 million in increased funding for research, prevention, and treatment programs. At the moment, the CDC spends about $11 million per year on Lyme disease research. (Read more Lyme disease stories.)

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