New book/book review 
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 New book/book review

New book about Lyme. Focus on natural history. Review at


If anyone reads this let us know if it's worth the cover price.


Sun, 02 Feb 2003 03:00:00 GMT
 New book/book review

Below is a review of the new book on Lyme by Eddie YouKnowWho


Biography of a Germ
by Arno Karlen

Reviewed by Edward McSweegan

Pantheon Books, 2000

Posted August 4, 2000 Issue 84


Frequently, news of epidemic and disease arrives in the form of terse bulletins, quarantine flags
flapping from ship masts, and hordes of panicked refugees. News of Lyme disease came to me
from my neighbor, Don Baur, after he'd returned from a trip to California in the summer of
1976. In the Los Angeles Times, he had found a small article about a mysterious disease in
our town, Old Lyme, Connecticut. Sitting on the hot sand of Old Lyme Shores, with the cold
water of Long Island Sound before us and the close-cropped lawns of the summer cottages
behind us, it seemed an unlikely place for a new disease to erupt suddenly. Yet it turned out to
be the perfect place.

Why that should be so is the subject of Arno Karlen's Biography of
a Germ. The germ in question is the corkscrew-shaped bacterium
Borrelia burgdorferi, an agent of what is now called Lyme disease.
Karlen's biography traces the evolution of Lyme disease from a
handful of arthritis cases in southern Connecticut to its present status
as the most commonly reported tick-borne disease in the United

Biography of a Germ is 178 pages - a small book about a small bug in a small town. The
book is easy, enjoyable reading; no specialized knowledge is required to understand or
appreciate the well-crafted information laid out in its pages. The bite-size chapters are not
conceptually linked, lending that the reader may feel free to skip around without fear of missing
earlier facts, or spoiling any climatic revelations. Karlen's musings on Latinized taxonomy, the
historical {*filter*}ism of the flea, and the smallness of bacteria may be interesting chapters in their
own right, but are not a necessary prelude to meeting the subject of this microbial biography.

When the Lyme disease bacterium, B. burgdorferi, does appear, Karlen introduces it as "Bb."
It is a friendly sounding moniker for a pathogen; though the author notes, "I have no particular
passion for this germ . . . " Yet, Karlen gives a number of reasons for wanting to play Boswell
to Borrelia.

Bb, he writes, illustrates interesting facts about germs and ecological adaptation. Bb is greatly
affected by climate, flora, and human activities. It escaped detection for decades and is now
considered "new" in the sense that it has finally attracted the attention of the public and the
medical profession. These are all good reasons, but they could just as easily be used to justify
biographies of Hantavirus, Ehrlichia, or Pfiesteria.

Irony is an unusual reason to write about an infectious disease. Yet
Karlen acknowledges such a motivation when he notes that the rise of
Bb is an example of people doing the right thing - restoring
woodlands and welcoming back wildlife - only to unleash a new
 disease in their restored Eden.

One unstated reason for tracing the story of this seasonal pest may be proximity: the author
lives in New York, knows the Connecticut shoreline, and is inundated by local media coverage
of Bb. Both New York and Connecticut rank at the top in U.S. states reporting incidences of
Lyme disease; New Jersey runs a close third. New York's Westchester County is a hot zone
for ticks and tick-borne infections, and area newspapers are full of springtime reminders about
Lyme disease and ticks. Vaccine trials have been conducted in the tristate area, and agitated
support group members wave placards and fire-off letters to newspaper editors about the
dangers of Lyme disease.

Whatever the motivation, Karlen gives the reader an articulate,
thoughtful tour of Bb and its world. It is a strange world in which this
tiny corkscrew of a creature seems to wander haplessly among an
odd assortment of hosts, including mice, deer, lizards, birds, horses,
dogs, and people. That it can do so, writes Karlen, is evidence of
Bb's impressive adaptability to different environments. A tiny, nearly brainless, {*filter*}sucking
tick called Ixodes scapularis aids this species hopping. Ixodes is Bb's RV: part home, part
transport. The tick is a vagabond, like Bb, and hitches surreptitious rides on passing mice,
birds, and pant legs.

Once attached to a host, the tick literally digs in for a {*filter*} meal. A biochemical battle quickly
ensues between the hungry tick and the reluctant host. Karlen provides vivid descriptions of the
ingenious molecular attacks and counterattacks that take place on a small patch of the host's
skin. The tick releases anesthetics, anti-inflammatories, and anticoagulants to keep the {*filter*}
flowing. The host counters with coagulants, cytokines, and antibodies. While this silent struggle
is taking place, Bb starts to activate genes and synthesize new proteins for its trip from the tick
gut to the salivary glands, then into the host's skin, and, eventually, the {*filter*}stream.

Once inside the new host, Bb begins a game of hide-and-seek with the host's immune system;
happily, it doesn't always win. Karlen notes that many people living in endemic areas have
antibody evidence of prior exposure to Bb, but no memory of a tick bite and no symptoms bad
enough to have warranted a visit to the doctor. Moreover, presence does not always mean

In an insightful chapter about the relationship between Bb and the
tick, the author asks an original question, "Is the tick sick?" Not all
ticks carry Bb, so it is probably not a normal constituent. Some ticks
carry multiple germs, including Bb, Babesia, and Ehrlichia species,
as well as viruses. A single microbe like Bb may not hurt the tick, but
it is hard to imagine it is happy ingesting a menagerie of germs with its
{*filter*} meal. Perhaps being a parasite is as much a health hazard as being a parasitized host.

Karlen uses the question of sick ticks as a reminder of the interconnectedness of life, especially
as it relates to parasitism and infectious diseases. We enter an environment - a jungle or the
backyard - not as detached observers, but as participants, shedding germs from our bodies
and clothes, collecting other germs, and attracting the hungry attention of vectors mindlessly
seeking to barter still more germs for a drop of {*filter*}.

Lyme disease is often called a new disease; however, Karlen notes
that it is not. What is new about it is the increased degree of
interaction with the Ixodes tick. Today there are more tick-friendly
environments in the United States; there are more ticks, and therefore
more opportunities to pick up tick-borne infections. Bb has always
been around; it just took us a while to realize it was there. Why did it
take so long? Karlen summarizes the history of who knew what and when they knew it. It is an
interesting tale of how a disease comes to be recognized as a disease.

Patients looking for information about Lyme disease treatments and diagnosis will find little
useful information in Biography of a Germ. The book is about the history and ecology of a
now famous infectious disease. Readers interested in such subjects will find informative
descriptors of the anatomy, physiology, and genetics, of this marvelous microbe, but may be
disappointed by the absence of references. Otherwise, Germ is enjoyable reading and a
welcome addition to the library of infectious disease literature.

Edward McSweegan is a microbiologist and longtime summer resident of
Old Lyme, Connecticut. During the mid-1990s, he managed a federal
research program on Lyme disease.


Right now biomedical science holds little danger for Bb [the Lyme bacterium]. Soon
there will probably be better vaccines and {*filter*} against Lyme disease, but they will
affect people more than the germ. Even if Bb should lose humans and many
domesticated animals as hosts, its life will change little; none of these species are
reservoirs that sustain its infective cycle. We and our pets and herds have never
been more than a sort of biological overflow basin when Bb is plentiful and we invade
its realm.

You may purchase this book (178 pp., hardcover) directly from:
Publisher ($22.00) (list $22.00, Amazon price $15.40, you save 30%)


Lyme Disease: Introduction - the Centers for Disease Control covers the history, prevention,
treatment, diagnosis, and epidemiology of Lyme disease.

American Lyme Disease Foundation - provides prevention and education information for

Vector Ecology Laboratory - covers current research on tick ecology and tick-borne

Tick Research Laboratory - crawls with tick pics and flicks, and information about testing for
B. burgdorferi.

Initiative on Lyme Disease - a patient's guide to Lyme disease. By the American College of

About Old Lyme and Lyme - the place where it all began.

Practice Guidelines from the Infectious Diseases Society of America - beginning with, but not
limited to, Lyme disease.

Sun, 02 Feb 2003 03:00:00 GMT
 New book/book review
I don't know if the book is good.  I haven't read it. The following is pure
speculation, my opinion- The person that reviews the book you mentioned  was
removed from his post at the NIH -he was in charge of where Lyme research
dollars were spent.  He spent more time harassing the LDF than doing anything
to help Lyme patients.   My opinion - pure speculation.


Biography of a Germ

[review] [excerpt] [endlinks] [purchase]
by Arno Karlen

Reviewed by Edward McSweegan

Pantheon Books, 2000

Posted August 4, 2000 Issue

Mon, 03 Feb 2003 09:16:48 GMT
 [ 3 post ] 

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