Does chronic Lyme illness exist? That’s nan mobility that haunts “The Quiet Epidemic,” Lindsay Keys and Winslow Crane-Murdoch’s worthy and provocative documentary astir nan highly arguable syndrome. (The movie premieres connected VOD connected May 16.) The filmmakers argue, pinch unflinching defense and immoderate very bully reporting, that chronic Lyme illness astir decidedly exists. Among different things, “The Quiet Epidemic” is simply a image of individuals whose lives person been ravaged by it. Yet nan movie, successful its doggedly opinionated way, does admit nan profundity of nan debate. The aesculapian establishment, led by nan Centers for Disease Control and nan National Institutes of Health, has agelong held nan position — 1 it maintains to this time — that Lyme illness is simply a existent thing, eminently curable pinch a two-to-four week regimen of antibiotics, but that chronic Lyme disease, pinch sometimes devastating symptoms stretching connected for months, years, moreover decades, is not backed up by nan science.
Fifteen years ago, I wrote a reappraisal (for Entertainment Weekly) of nan 2008 Lyme illness documentary “Under Our Skin” successful which I stated, trying to do thing much (or less) than travel nan science, that chronic Lyme illness does not exist. I was besieged by angry responses — much than 500 of them. Many were built astir testimonials from individuals who said that they aliases 1 of their loved ones suffered from chronic Lyme.
Today, I wouldn’t make nan aforesaid broad statement. The subject has precocious since 2008 (starting pinch a important study that was published in 2008). In “Deep Places: A Memoir of Illness and Discovery” (2021), nan New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has written pinch searching eloquence and penetration of his struggle pinch Lyme disease, and really it included his battles not conscionable pinch nan aesculapian constitution but pinch his ain skepticism. The cognition that group who deliberation they person chronic Lyme are victims of a psychosomatic arena is 1 that Douthat first leaned toward, moreover astir himself; that’s portion of what makes him specified a convincing messenger. But moreover if you judge that chronic Lyme illness exists, you tin besides judge nan mobility isn’t astir that simple.
“The Quiet Epidemic” opens pinch a man successful Kalamazoo capturing birds and taking mini ticks disconnected them. As we spot nan ticks he’s gathered onto a integrative petri dish, melodramatic euphony fills nan soundtrack. It’s rapturous thriller music; you could besides opportunity that nan euphony swells pinch a benignant of beatified fervor. Because nan truth is that Lyme disease, dissimilar different diseases, has go much than a disease. The statement that has been raging astir it since nan ’90s, pinch clusters of protesters arraying themselves against nan aesculapian establishment, and nan aesculapian constitution digging successful its heels, has turned nan disease’s very personality into an rumor of belief, a mobility of faith. From nan start, nan movie presents nan ticks almost arsenic acheronian objects of worship. They’re nan carriers of Lyme disease, and truthful carriers of The Cause.
In “The Quiet Epidemic,” Mary Beth Pfeiffer, a erstwhile newsman for The Poughkeepsie Journal and nan writer of “Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change,” says that America now has 500,000 cases of Lyme illness a year, 10 to 20 percent of which she says go chronic. The filmmakers trace nan history of Lyme illness (first identified, successful nan Connecticut municipality it was named for successful 1975, arsenic “Lyme arthritis”). They question and reply Ivy League scientists, springiness america a clang people successful what a “spirochete” is (the corkscrew-shaped germs injected into nan bloodstream by ticks, and a first relative of nan spirochete that causes syphilis), and trace nan life of Julia Bruzzese, a 15-year-old woman from Brooklyn who was struck by a bid of drastic symptoms that her doctors could neither cure nor place nan root of.
One time was she was 11, Julia felt sick astatine school; she couldn’t see, and couldn’t move her legs aliases arms. She was taken to nan infirmary and tested for each upset nether nan sun, but each trial came backmost negative. Today, she can’t locomotion and is successful a wheelchair, pinch a mostly unflinching bully quality astir her condition. Four months into her ordeal, she was picked retired of a crowd astatine JFK Airport by Pope Francis, who blessed her. That thrust her into nan spotlight, and she became a media poster woman for chronic Lyme disease.
It’s Julia’s father, Enrico, who expresses his family’s agony arsenic he sits successful his half-finished basement, surrounded by boxes and boxes of pills and oxygen respirators. He’s hopeless to heal his daughter. “It’s truthful overmuch much than conscionable suffering and disease,” he says. “It’s for illustration an atomic explosive drops down connected your life and conscionable turns everything upside down.” The conundrum, arsenic nan movie presents it, is this: If nan aesculapian constitution won’t admit that Julia has chronic Lyme disease, and successful truth that’s what she has, past really tin she beryllium cured?
That each nan tests she took came backmost antagonistic is portion of nan chronic Lyme syndrome, and portion of why truthful galore outsiders position nan arena pinch skepticism. Last week successful The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof wrote a striking column astir nan epic of unexplained chronic symptom that now afflicts Americans — what he describes arsenic “a immense and mysterious view of symptom that is increasing, sometimes pinch nary evident beingness cause.”
Kristof connects that symptom pinch our existent societal diminution (the vanishing mediate class, nan worry and rage and helplessness, and truthful on). So you mightiness opportunity that his constituent echoes nan psychosomatic position of chronic Lyme disease. The symptoms of Lyme are often akin to those of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, aliases various inflammatory disorders, but according to “The Quiet Epidemic” galore patients pinch chronic Lyme trial antagonistic moreover for Lyme. That, according to nan film, is because of 2 important familial markers that were taken disconnected nan trial truthful that they could beryllium utilized successful a imaginable Lyme vaccine (the improvement of which has languished for 20 years). That this has nan contour of a conspiracy mentation doesn’t make it wrong. But a conspiracy mentation is what it sounds like.
Where “The Quiet Epidemic” is connected coagulated ground, and hits moments of investigative power, is successful relating nan technological grounds that’s been gathered successful caller years. The movie looks astatine nan lawsuit of Vicki Logan, a pediatric ICU caregiver who was diagnosed pinch chronic Lyme and cared for, until she died, by Dr. Kenneth B. Leigner. After Logan was connected antibiotics for months, nan Mayo Clinic disputed her diagnosis. But according to a study successful nan New York Times, Leigner’s test was yet vindicated. Scientists astatine nan CDC successful Atlanta recovered nan Lyme spirochete swimming successful a sample of Vicki Logan’s spinal fluid. (That’s what you telephone a smoking spirochete.) It indicates that Lyme tin enactment successful nan system. Ying Zhang, a microbiologist astatine Johns Hopkins University, describes what he calls nan “dandelion phenomenon,” wherever nan antibiotics chop disconnected nan apical of nan Lyme spirochete and time off nan root, which tin turn back.
All of this is potent grounds that chronic Lyme illness is much than conscionable portion of nan “anti-science movement” (as nan prestigious British aesculapian diary The Lancet dubbed it). Yet nan truth that Lyme illness itself became a activity gives 1 pause. Did it go a activity because it needed to — because that’s nan only measurement nan group suffering from it could beryllium heard? Or did it go a activity because people’s request to judge they had it transcended their request for aesculapian logic? Maybe both.