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What is Lyme Disease Named After?

lyme disease history old lyme connecticutLyme disease is named after the town of Old Lyme in Connecticut where a raft of cases of the condition occurred in 1975 prompting scientists to investigate the cause of the unknown disease. The patients in this case were largely children who had symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and who were, in fact, misdiagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis by the researcher Allen C. Steere who has played a major role in the history of Lyme disease. Following a number of other cases of similar symptoms at a nearby naval medical hospital in the town of Old Lyme in 1976, Steere was forced to revise his assessment and, in 1977, he devised the term Lyme Arthritis to describe the disease as experienced by all of these patients.

Following the discovery of the cause of Lyme disease in 1981 by Will Burgdorferi, and the recognition of its role in European cases throughout history, the condition attained its current name of Lyme disease in contrast to specific Lyme arthritis. Cases of Lyme disease leading to arthritis symptoms are more common in North America due to infection by the Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto species of bacteria, whereas B. afzelii and B. garinii found more predominantly in Europe often cause alternative symptoms of Lyme disease such as neurological problems or the long-term skin complaint acrodermatitis chronica atrophicans.

Early cases of Lyme disease have now been retrospectively identified as far back as 1883 based on the Lyme disease rash, erythema migrans. The name remains however as Connecticut, and Old Lyme itself, have a significant number of cases of Lyme disease each year with the codification of the condition now firmly cemented in medical vocabulary.