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Hamilton scientist who discovered cause of Lyme disease dies

November 19, 2014 10:00 pm

HAMILTON – To the world, Willy Burgdorfer will always be remembered as the scientist who discovered the cause of Lyme disease.

In Hamilton, the former Rocky Mountain Laboratories scientist will be remembered as a patient and kind mentor to the researchers who followed in his footsteps, as well as a community member always willing to share his time through the Kiwanis and his church.

Burgdorfer died in Hamilton on Monday at the age of 89.

Born and educated in Switzerland, Burgdorfer joined the RML research team in Hamilton in 1951. Over a career that spanned 35 years, he studied a variety of tick-borne disease agents and authored more than 200 scientific publications.

In 1982, his discovery of the bacterium that causes Lyme disease rocked the scientific world.

Lyme disease was first recognized as a serious health problem in 1975 after scores of children developed juvenile rheumatoid arthritis near the small town of Lyme, Connecticut. Researchers focused their attention on deer ticks as a potential carrier of the disease, but no one could solve the mystery of what caused the disease.

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