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Chapter 47: Little Sparks



When you get diagnosed with an incurable, chronic disease, it’s only natural to seek answers, to point fingers of blame, to hunt for the ultimate source of your illness. We all do it. Over the years, I’d replay the Fall of Dave in my head looking for clues. Why multiple sclerosis? Why me? Why now? In my search for a sliver of solace, I had narrowed the likely cause down to three.

Was it my parents? In addition to my droopy blue eyes, unshapely plywood-flat rear end, and oversized hips perfect for childbirth had I been born female, maybe they also passed down defective genes. Maybe it was hereditary! My MS diagnosis would have been inescapable—I was born defective. There’s comfort in that. Good thing Laura and I never had children.


Was it my first girlfriend from high school? She dropped by the house one afternoon during the fall of 1985 and swore she was feeling better from her forever cold, so we made out. Because that’s what teenagers do. I caught mono, the kissing disease, making me a carrier of the Epstein-Barr virus, most recently thought to be an MS trigger. Maybe it was EBV reactivation! My teenage hormones would have been at fault. Again, inescapable.


Or was it my wanderlust? In preparation for our trip to Vietnam and Cambodia over the 2004 winter holidays, it was recommended that Laura and I get hepatitis B vaccines. Before the first inoculation, the doctor administering the shot told me that there had been sporadic reports of people coming down with MS after receiving the vaccine. “If I'm meant to get MS, I'll get MS,” I said, and tapped my right arm for him to continue. Exotic lands beyond Southeast Asia inevitably would be in our future. Once more, inescapable.



I was wrong, all wrong. None of the three had anything to do with that tick feasting on a Happy Meal of Dave blood back in Old Lyme, Connecticut, on that fateful morning in September of 2004.

There absolutely can be an inherited component to Lyme disease if one or both parents have the bacterial infection, but barring that, it has little to do with other mutated or defective genes passed down for generations. It’s not the fault of a genetic disorder.


As for the influence of EBV, esteemed MS researcher Dr. Gavin Giovannoni has “always questioned the underlying assumption that MS is an autoimmune disease.” Bonus points! But he has been a leading proponent of the theory that EBV, a virus found in 99% of humans, is the smoking gun—“the data is so overwhelming that I have already accepted that EBV is the cause of MS”—that despite another trial failure and repeated evidence that children diagnosed with MS can test negative for EBV exposure, his mind is made up. Those trials were flawed or it must be poor science or it’s a crummy trial design, he theorized in a November 2023 blog post Yet it’s still full steam ahead to create an EBV vaccine in the hope that cases of MS diminish over time.


In December of 2023, the European Union committed $7.6 million to identify the causes of MS, with a particular focus on viruses like EBV. All this research and their accompanying trials will be costly and won’t yield fruit for many years. Plus, any fruit harvested appears destined to be rotten. This is avoidable. You’re welcome.


And lastly, there is the vaccine wrinkle. It’s true, there are reports of cases of MS being diagnosed shortly after Hep B vaccinations. But the CDC is emphatic: “Hundreds of millions of people worldwide have received hepatitis B vaccine without developing MS or any other autoimmune disease. As with all vaccines and any disease, due to the large number of vaccinations administered worldwide, surveillance systems that monitor health concerns after vaccination do expect to receive reports of MS occurring after vaccination that happen by chance alone.” The CDC, technically, is right, vaccines do not cause multiple sclerosis or Lyme disease. It’s not the fault of vaccines. But attributing reports of autoimmune diseases after vaccination to mere coincidence?


Since the development of vaccines, there has been a long-simmering “debate as to whether [autoimmune] diseases might also be triggered by vaccines... [with] numerous claims and counter claims relating to such a risk.” () Scientists and anti-vaxxers have been at such odds that a cage match would all but appear to be on the horizon. But if those two climbed into that ring, who do you think would emerge from the octagon bloodied but victorious?


Certainly not the anti-vaxxers. And not the scientists. No one. Absolutely no one.


Little Sparks

Lyme disease can remain a dormant infection for years, even decades, until something stirs it from hibernation. We’ve already established that Covid-19 acted as a flamethrower, disrupting immune systems on a massive scale, triggering an unprecedented wave of newly awakened Lyme cases. But it doesn’t take a flamethrower to light a match. In the right person, a little spark can be just as disruptive. Vaccines are potential little sparks.



In the past, random, sporadic cases of autoimmune diseases or other unexplained illnesses that occasionally crop up after vaccination could be explained away as coincidental, nothing more than flukey happenstance. In studies, these cases would be dismissed as falling within the bounds of expected variability, predictable noise, the equivalent of a cop saying, “move along, nothing to see here.” And since signs of Lyme mimic such a wide variety of diseases—with nondescript symptoms routinely lagging behind the triggering event—discerning any identifiable pattern would have been all but impossible. But there are some exceptions that can help to dispel the idea of coincidence: scary diseases that have a swift and dramatic onset.


Diseases identified as autoimmune typically are plodding disablers, systematically robbing the patient of abilities over time. But some announce their presence with the flair of Billy Porter on the catwalk. And those get the attention of regulators, and the potential triggering vaccine or medication subsequently gets slapped with a warning label. One such disease: Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare neurological disorder affecting about 3,000 people in the U.S. “The onset of GBS can be quite sudden and unexpected and requires immediate hospitalization,” says Johns Hopkins. “GBS can occur after a viral infection, surgery, injury, or a reaction to an immunization.” Coincidentally, all four are known and frequently documented triggers for causing a dormant Lyme infection to become active.


History harbors hints, and immunizations have raised question marks from the beginning. “Vaccines have been suspected of playing a role in inducing autoimmune disease for a long time,” reports a 2015 study. “However, apart from certain specific vaccine strains and complications (such as the swine flu vaccine and Guillain-Barré syndrome in 1976, thrombocytopenia and the Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccine), this role has not been established. In spite of this, many isolated cases or series of cases of arthritis, vasculitis, and central or peripheral nervous system symptoms following vaccination have been reported.” But it’s “highly rare,” the researchers insisted, and “these observations should therefore not undermine the benefits of vaccination.”


Left: Components of a smallpox vaccination kit including the diluent, a vial of Dryvax® smallpox vaccine, and a bifurcated needle. Photo credit: CDC; public domain. Center: Preparation of measles vaccine at the Tirana (Albania) Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology. Two technicians, wearing surgical gowns, are making small openings in eggs. Photo credit: World Health Organization, photo by D. Henrioud; 7 May 2009. Right: child with Covid-19 vaccination card.


Anything that could undercut the public’s acceptance and support of vaccinations could swiftly turn into a health crisis, so scientists have been trying to reassure the public of their safety for as long as vaccinations have been a thing. Back in 1985, oft-mentioned Dr. Kurland and a team of researchers investigated further the unsettling rise in GBS cases after people received the swine influenza vaccine. It was so unsettling that the federal government instituted a vaccine moratorium for six weeks. Epidemic or artifact, they wondered, after 45 million Americans were inoculated and more than a few came down with the debilitating disorder. But it’s hardly the fault of a few specific vaccines. Pick any vaccine, like the shingles vaccination, Shingrix. The FDA released a public warning about the vaccination in 2021 after “an increased risk of GBS was observed during the 42 days following vaccination with Shingrix.”


It’s not just vaccines, either. If you want to test the immune-disruption-triggers-GBS/Lyme theory, grab some popcorn and settle in to binge watch smiley, multi-racial, handholding, carefree beach-walking pharmaceutical commercials. The disease is such a frequent interloper that when Announcer Voice rattles off required warnings, you’ll start focusing solely on Guillain-Barré instead of complications concerning intestinal discomfort and projectile expectorations.


The Lyme-vaccine connection may have remained forever hidden in shadow were it not for one of the greatest medical advances of modern medicine: the vaccinations for Covid-19. With more than 5.5 billion people inoculated, nearly three quarters of the global population, no other vaccination in history has been administered faster or more widely. Compared to the trigger of full-blown Covid, the inconsequential sparks of a Covid vaccine would affect only a fraction of recipients… but a fraction of 5.5 billion adds up quickly into measurable, quantifiable data.


For all of my admittedly outrageous, breathtaking hypotheses to be proven correct—that the complete range of autoimmune disease represents cases of misdiagnosed Lyme (or a similar infection), that mental illness is chiefly caused by a bacterial infection, and that long Covid is merely an undiagnosed form of Lyme disease—a final hurdle remains: vaccine response. If both Covid and its vaccine are indeed just triggers for dormant Lyme disease (only on vastly different scales), with the exception of complications related directly to a Covid infection—say, irreparably damaged lungs requiring a transplant—the aftermath seen in both patient populations should be virtually identical.


Journal article on new onset autoimmune phenomena post covid 19 vaccination

The same alarming increase in autoimmune disease, the same unrelenting waves of fatigue, the same bizarre instances of POTS, the same frightening occurrences of psychosis, the same array of strange neurological symptoms, the same rise of ischemic stroke, the same everything. Everything.


“There are many reports of side effects after getting a COVID-19 vaccine,” say Iranian researchers in a 2023 study, apparently unconcerned with rocking the boat. “According to these reports, vaccination can have an adverse event, especially on [the] nervous system. The most important and common complications are cerebrovascular disorders including cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, transient ischemic attack, intracerebral hemorrhage, ischemic stroke, and demyelinating disorders including transverse myelitis, first manifestation of MS, and neuromyelitis optica.”


Their study reaffirms the findings of other research. California cardiologists confirmed the association of POTS and the Covid vaccination in a 2024 study, while Chinese and Australian researchers positively linked a range of autoimmune conditions to the vaccine. “Recently, new-onset autoimmune phenomena after COVID-19 vaccination have been reported increasingly (e.g. immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia, autoimmune liver diseases, Guillain-Barré syndrome, IgA nephropathy, rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus),” reports a 2022 study. “However, whether the association between COVID-19 vaccine and autoimmune manifestations is coincidental or causal remains to be elucidated.”


So, let’s elucidate, and in the process end another stupid war, the Vaccine Wars.


Antivaccination protest in London

A protest against COVID-19 vaccines, in Islington, London, on 18 September 2021. Photo credit: Mx. Granger; public domain.


Scientists have long insisted that vaccines are perfectly safe and that any complications are coincidental. Meanwhile, anti-vaxxers have long insisted that vaccines are dangerous and could cause a host of health issues. Both statements contain kernels of truth swaddled in a blanket of mistaken assumptions and misattributed outrage.


To the relief of scientists, all evidence points to a solitary conclusion: vaccines are inherently safe and responsible for the improved health of billions. Anti-vaxxers, apologize for dismissing the science, needlessly putting you and your family in danger, and roll up your sleeves.

To the affirmation of castigated anti-vaxxers, all evidence points to a definite connection between vaccines and unexplained health issues. Scientists, apologize for not listening and belittling rightly concerned citizens, and vow to overhaul processes that allowed this to go unchecked for centuries.


The first vaccine was created in 1796 by English physician Edward Jenner to fight smallpox. And ever since, researchers have found that “vaccination might display autoimmune side effects and potentially even trigger a full-blown autoimmune disease,” as illustrated by an extensive 2017 study. Evidence of this connection drenches medical journals, and they don’t know why. Not a clue. But maaaybe, just maybe, the researchers posit, there’s a smoking gun somewhere, and they spitballed one hypothesis that would appeal to the wingnuts out there. “The etiology and the trigger mechanism of autoimmune disease are still unclear, but several studies suggest that a vaccine component (inactive viral/bacterial agent or attenuated living microorganism) or a wild superimposed infectious agent can induce autoimmune disease … for instance, Borrelia burgdorferi.”


Yes, the study really did finger Lyme disease—all the incriminating puzzle pieces are right there on the kitchen table, mockingly winking back! But researchers, despite their best efforts, would never, ever, fathom the possibility that Lyme and autoimmune diseases are one in the same. And never, ever, ever, consider that a vaccine for a viral infection would trigger a dormant bacterial infection.


Lyme disease... is our planet’s most pressing health issue, full stop.

Vaccines themselves are not the problem—they’ve never been the problem. But anything that stirs up the immune system is a potential trigger for awakening Lyme disease and related bacterial infections, making routine vaccinations regular pot stirrers. You can’t blame freaked out parents for refusing to let their children get inoculated against infection when they see sporadic cases of illness and disease unexpectedly pop up after recommended shots. However, these parents inadvertently are doing their children a disservice. If they or their children are infected with a dormant case of Lyme, avoiding vaccines dodges only a single trigger. Stress from a teenage breakup, a fender bender in the grocery store parking lot, an errant soccer ball to the noggin, or a case of strep throat could each just as easily be a trigger. Or worse, so would coming down with the very illness the avoided vaccine was meant to shield the recipient from, a true double whammy when both the illness targeted by the vaccine and active Lyme disease develop.


Bottom line: if a single spark from a vaccine is enough to awaken a sleeping case of Lyme disease, it’s not so much a question of if Lyme is going to make its unwelcome appearance in that person, but when. And it doesn’t matter if you are a housewife from Hoboken or the world’s best tennis player. Eschewing a vaccine—whether it’s to protect against Covid-19, the flu, HPV, tetanus, or any of the other 30+ diseases they are designed to ward off—would then only delay the inevitable.


Lyme disease, often mingled with other disabling coinfections, is our planet’s most pressing health issue, full stop. It’s not cancer, it’s not obesity, it’s not substance abuse, it’s not heart disease. As bad as these other maladies are, it’s Lyme. It has always been Lyme.


As the reality of this apocalyptic scenario settles, while that disbelieving brain of yours desperately clings to the last vestiges of this crumbling medical house of cards, ponder this. What are the odds that an individual autoimmune disease, out of pure happenstance, shares the exact same symptoms, dozens upon dozens, with another, supposedly distinct autoimmune disease? For example, multiple sclerosis and neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD) are virtually indistinguishable from one another, the laundry list of potential symptoms for each disease identical. Decently long odds I’d say.


Now add another autoimmune disease to the mix, then another, then another. Maybe one leads with pain, another with rashes, and another with digestive issues. But curiously, they, too, have the exact same laundry list of potential symptoms. What are the odds? Eerie, I know. Now what are the odds that seemingly every one of the existing 80+ autoimmune diseases ever discovered on this planet would all, to some degree, share the exact same symptoms—every single one, more than 100—with each other? Those odds would be so long, they would appear to be incalculable.


Then, defying all probability, what are the chances that all 80+ autoimmune diseases also share the same extensive array of symptoms with long Covid? And then, to really stretch things, what are the odds that those 80+ diseases and long Covid share the same symptoms with the lingering aftereffects of all major epidemics from the past?


Dave and Laura in the late 90s

Okay, okay, this is getting so beyond ridiculous that I need to use a descriptor from 20 years ago—back when The Rachel was popular, VHS outsold DVDs, and Titanic was in the theaters—ridonculous. And yet, the odds get even longer when we add in the outrageous fact that the side effects of the Covid vaccines mirror the symptoms of long Covid. And then in a stunner of stunners, the side effects of all vaccines mirror those from long Covid. Keeping track?


To sum up, the disparate unusual symptoms of 80+ autoimmune diseases match the disparate unusual symptoms experienced by a subset of people after all viral pandemics match the disparate unusual symptoms experienced by a subset of people who received vaccines dating back to when vaccines were first discovered in the 1700s. They are all mirror images of each other. And then, in a fluke of flukes, all also share the exact same extensive array of symptoms with a spirochetal bacterial infection, one wholly removed from the universe of autoimmune disease, vaccines, and pandemics. What are the odds that this is all a stroke of absurd coincidence?


I’m no statistician, but the odds would certainly exceed your chances of hitting the Powerball and winning a billion dollars in the lottery. Back-to-back, with the same numbers, at the same gas station. Or filling out a perfect March Madness bracket. For both the men’s and women’s brackets, along with the correct final scores for each game. The chances are so remote that we must use numbers typically reserved for theoretical mathematicians and snarky memoirists. If a thousand trillions is a quadrillion, this would be closer to one in a thousand quadrillions. A quintillion, or a 1 followed by 18 zeros.


Or, and this is going to sound so logical that even an astute 5th grader could have come up with the same conclusion, the reason they altogether share the exact same parade of symptoms: they are all essentially the same disease.


Wow. What at first seemed like an overreach of overreaches now seems so obvious, the overlooked clues now appear glaringly, conspicuously blatant. No matter how hard you try, you can’t unsee it. This seems like the perfect time to introduce you to Franciscan friar William of Occam (1285–1347). “William of Occam insisted that science is the search for the simplest solutions. Occam's razor was adopted by Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton to argue that Earth orbits the sun, not the other way around, because it is simpler. They used the razor to clear a path through mysticism, superstition, and religion to found modern science.”



Occam’s razor is essentially “the principle that when faced with competing explanations, we should choose the simplest that fits the facts.” And Lyme disease as the answer couldn’t get much simpler.


I realize that right about now the full-throated Semmelweis reflex is kicking in among scientists, the absolute refusal to accept an alternate theory despite the overwhelming evidence. That reflex is buoyed by a failsafe trump card that researchers have long had tucked up a sleeve or ensconced in a pocket, one I’m sure they’ve been itching to pull out for the last half dozen chapters. I know that feeling.


For two weeks back in 1992, a diamond engagement ring burned a hole in my own pocket as I waited for just the right moment to pop the question and ask for Laura’s hand in marriage during a sweeping tour of the American Southwest. Finally, at the edge of the Grand Canyon, on a private rock outcropping with a breathtaking view, I shakily proposed on one knee. Shakily because I was scared. Of dropping the ring in the canyon. Of falling into the canyon while trying to catch said ring. Of what she might say. Please say yes, please say yes, please say yes.


“Are you serious?!”



I was serious then—thankfully she answered yes after getting over the shock—and I’m serious now. Scientists have long insisted that all those chronic illnesses couldn’t possibly be from a tickborne disease, that the habitat for deer ticks that carry Lyme is regional and localized, that positive test results are often flawed and, therefore, must be false if a patient never lived in or traveled to an endemic area. That the science, the research, and the epidemiology support that.


Scientists around the world haven’t just doubled down on these assumptions, they’ve gone all in. All in. A 2024 study on gaslighting and Lyme disease found that doctors routinely refuse to order Lyme disease tests for their patients. Even for those living in regions endemic for the disease, fewer than half of patients surveyed could even get tested, a percentage that plummets for those in areas free of deer ticks. And God forbid you live in Australia, where only 19% of patients with suspicious Lyme symptoms were even granted a test. Not that testing matters. “A patient’s positive blood test status did not influence how likely a doctor was to believe the patient had Lyme disease,” reported the study that had nearly 1,000 respondents from 28 different countries. “Doctors were no more likely to believe a positive blood test [for] Lyme disease (79% unconvinced) than a patient who had not obtained a blood test (74% unconvinced).” But test positive for Lyme in Australia? There is a 94% chance—94% chance—your Down Under doc will toss the confirming test and label it bogus, a false positive.


Did any of you—scientists, doctors, researchers—ever stop to contemplate, What if? What if those “false” positive Lyme disease tests were true positives all along? You should have.


Recall that in 2022, researchers dropped what should have been a bombshell, that some 15% of the global population have had, or currently have, the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium that causes Lyme disease. That’s an astonishing 1.2 billion infected people, afflicting 1 in 7 human beings. News outlets worldwide covered the story. Scientists, though, shrugged. Wear more DEET, they suggested. Those tests we developed to detect antibodies are flawed anyway, they said under their collective breaths. We don’t want to be bothered, they implied.


If scientists had bothered to pay attention, they would have noticed something rather curious. The combined population of the two areas with the highest concentration of Lyme disease, North America and Europe, is 1.1 billion. Even if every man, woman, and child living in these two regions had been bitten by a tick—keeping in mind that in most areas, only a small percentage of ticks carry Borrelia burgdorferi—that still would fall short of the estimated 1.2 billion worldwide infections. The habitat of deer ticks—the only confirmed vector of Lyme—is laughably small to have infected so many people. It grows even smaller when these ticks must also be infected with Lyme-causing spirochetes.


The math doesn’t work. At all. It’s not even close.


There are only two rational explanations. Either the science used to detect Borrelia burgdorferi antibodies is woefully flawed—so woefully flawed that it randomly introduces false positive tests in such quantities that it discredits the validity of all antibody tests—or scientists have made a catastrophically incorrect assumption about the disease.



By now, Chubby Checker himself would be tiring of all the twists in Part IV of Sit Down Before Reading. But please, this is not the time to kick off your wingtips and sit out the next dance. In a stunning turn of events that no one would have predicted in 4.543 billion years, scientists worldwide appear to have dropped the ball. A rather big ball, one weighing 5.9725 billion trillion metric tons with a circumference of 24,901 miles, also known as planet Earth.


The entirety of the “it couldn’t be Lyme” argument is predicated on a singular hypothesis: that Lyme disease is spread nearly exclusively by ticks, the lone defining pest long attached to the disease. Scientists of all stripes have latched onto this premise like the hungry parasitic arachnids they’ve been investigating. Just one wee, tiny, nymph-sized problem.


If that assumption is proven to be wrong—that ticks are not the primary way Lyme disease is disseminated—our knowledge of what constitutes chronic illness threatens to get upended, entire fields of medicine are at risk of being rewritten, and the building blocks supporting countless hypotheses are in jeopardy of collapsing.


If that happens, it could all come

crashing,

crashing,

crashing

down.



Scientists, I’m afraid that your reliable ace up your sleeve—the evidence you routinely pull out to rebuff those who dare question your conclusions that the spread of Lyme disease is limited, finite—is nothing more than a generic, flimsy, two of clubs.


One that just so happens to anchor this medical house of cards.


Ready or not, it’s time to play 52-card pickup.


Chapter 48: Hallelujah Booyah releases May 29, 2024 to commemorate—and memorialize—the final World MS Day (May 30). This is the last scheduled break of Sit Down Before Reading, which will conclude with the release of the final 5 chapters (48-52).


Previous Chapter | Table of Contents | Next Chapter (coming May 29)





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