Government researchers may have experimented with ticks for use as biological weapons. Here’s why the insects can be so dangerous.
- Edwin Remsburg, VW Pics/Getty Images
- The U.S. House of Representatives voted last week to investigate whether the Defense Department experimented with using insects as biological weapons, and if this research contributed to the rise of Lyme disease and other bug-borne illnesses.
- Evidence suggests researchers at Pentagon facilities between 1950 and 1970 may have infected insects to learn more about how they carry disease, and whether they could be weaponized.
- Ticks and other biting bugs carry many diseases that can be deadly to humans. including Lyme disease and other viruses and bacteria. Here are some of the most dangerous.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
The Pentagon is investigating reports that U.S. Defense Department researchers conducted experiments on disease-carrying insects from 1950 to 1970 to develop biological evidence. Members of the House of Representatives ordered the investigation after a new book suggested that military research may have contributed to the spread of Lyme disease via the release of weaponized ticks, according to Roll Call.
New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith, who led the call for the investigation, said tick-related illnesses have been “exploding” in the U.S., CNN reported.
Read more: A single tick bite could put you at risk for at least 6 different diseases
Being bitten by a tick can put you at risk of life-threatening illness including Lyme disease, but also babesiosis parasites, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Here are some of the most common.
Lyme disease is the fastest-growing bug-borne illness in the nation
About 300,000 Americans each year report cases of Lyme disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the number of actual cases that go unreported could be 8 to 10 times higher.
Caused by Borrelia bacteria, Lyme disease can give you a fever, rash, muscle aches, and fatigue. In severe cases, it can cause nerve pain and damage, facial paralysis, and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. It is recognizable by a distinct “bull’s eye” rash, a red spot on the skin surrounded by a red ring.
Ticks also spread microscopic parasites that attack your red blood cells
Babesia microtiare spread by young ticks that are usually about the size of a poppy seed. The parasites themselves aren’t visible and go after red blood cells, causing anemia and flu-like symptoms. Many people infected, however, don’t have symptoms and don’t need treatment, according to the CDC. Babesiosis can be severe or deadly for older people or others who have weakened immune systems.
Ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis cause headaches, nausea, confusion and, if left untreated, death
Caused by a variety of bacteria carried by ticks, ehrlichiosis is another flu-like illness, with symptoms like muscle aches, fever, chills, headache, and upset stomach. It also occasionally causes a rash, but any symptoms typically don’t start until one to two weeks after exposure to infected ticks, the CDC says.
Ehrlichiosis can be treated with antibiotics, but left alone it can cause serious and potentially deadly symptoms like respiratory failure, brain damage, and uncontrolled bleeding.
Anaplasmosis, although spread by a different bacteria, can have similar consequences and is also treatable with antibiotics.
Symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever include a rash, stomach pain, and loss of appetite
Despite its name, Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a bacterial infection that can be spread by several species of ticks throughout the U.S. Although difficult to distinguish from other tick-borne ailments, it can be recognized by a fever coinciding with a rash a few days later. It can also cause vomiting, stomach cramps, muscle pain, and loss of appetite.
Severe cases can permanently damage the blood vessels in the fingers, toes, arms, and legs, sometimes requiring amputation. Like most of the illnesses on this list, Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be treated with antibiotics.
Now that it’s summer, here’s everything you need to know about preventing diseases from ticks and mosquitoes
Mysterious ticks from Asia that can carry a deadly virus are now spreading in the US – and efforts to kill them are failing
Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are skyrocketing – here’s how to know if you have Lyme disease
13 common bug bites and how to spot them