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06/15/1999

Ticks, Shots and This Is My Life

When I was a kid we were vaccinated against small pox and
probably diphtheria and that was about it. Those of you who
read my first column (if not, you can still access it by clicking on
"Previous Articles" at the bottom) may not have been convinced
that I qualify for writing this erudite science column, still
questioning whether I did indeed receive my high school
diploma. To further reassure you, I was inducted into the
Mechanicsburg High School Alumni Association Hall of Fame
on June 18, 1994. However, they apparently decided that to
receive this honor I should be an alumnus of the school. Not an
unusual requirement! Hence the awarding of my diploma the
night before, qualifying me as a bona fide alumnus. (My fellow
classmates who were present that night of our 50th reunion dinner
may not remember my graduation, in full cap and gown to the
strains of "Pomp and Circumstance." They will recall the
distraction of the TV in the bar area showing the police chasing a
white Bronco on the Los Angeles freeways.)

What''s this got to do with vaccinations? Well, today we have
literally a plethora of options for preventing diseases such as
measles, hepatitis, pneumonia and now parents are being asked
to consider having their children get shots for preventing chicken
pox. Such a shot would have eliminated by two bouts of shingles
resulting from having chicken pox as a child.

As a golfer in New Jersey, where deer, mice and ticks abound,
the recently developed Lyme disease vaccine is a promising
development. Unfortunately, being over 70 years old, it seems as
though I don''t qualify for the vaccine. As a result, I will
continue to debate whether to pursue my many errant golf balls
into the woods or take penalty strokes - not an easy decision for
a golfer who''s only broken 100 twice in the past decade!

An article in the May issue of Discover magazine indicates that
this year is going to be a particularly bad year for Lyme disease.
This prediction is based on a study by an ecologist, Richard
Ostfeld, who has correlated the number of ticks with the amounts
of acorns in oak forests. Anyone in our area, which is loaded
with oak trees, knows that every few years there is a huge crop of
acorns. This evolutionary trait of the oak tree guarantees an
excess of acorns that escape the squirrels and other devotees of
this culinary treat. Some of this excess will sprout and propagate
the oak tree species. Mr. Ostfeld suggests that these added
acorns attracts deer and, two years later, when mice and ticks are
factored in, there''s a peak in the number of Borrelia burgdorferi,
the little bug that causes Lyme disease. Let''s call this bacterium
BB for short.

The Lyme vaccine now being promoted isn''t your run-of-the-
mill vaccine, which causes your body to develop antibodies that
later recognize and kill a particular type of bacteria. It turns out
that BB is a clever little rascal that has two different coats, one in
the tick, the other in your body. We apparently don''t know how
to penetrate BB''s coat in a human so we have to catch it in the
tick! The vaccine promotes in your body the formation of
antibodies that can penetrate the BB''s coat in a tick and kill the
little BB''s while the tick is biting you! The tick doesn''t squirt
the BB''s into you right away, giving your antibodies time to do
their job. Unfortunately, in some people the vaccine doesn''t
form the required number or type of antibodies. Also, it''s not
known how long protection lasts in those more fortunate.
There''s more work to be done.

Bortrum, you say, "What does all this have to do with your
diploma being granted at age 65?" When I was about to enter
school in Philadelphia, I had a reaction to the smallpox vaccine
and missed the first half of 1st grade. My mother, with some sort
of teaching credentials, decided to tutor me and, being an
aggressive mother, suggested to the school administration that I
had learned enough to skip first grade and the first half of second
grade. She either did a good tutoring job, or was just a good
talker, for I did skip into the last half of second grade. Years
later, after I finished my junior year in Mechanicsburg High
School, she pulled another con job on Dickinson College in
Carlisle, PA, 10 miles from Mechanicsburg. It was 1943 with
World War II underway and Dickinson, with normally a
predominantly male student body, now found itself with about 50
males and 250 females and was in financial difficulty. They
accepted me and, by going to school full-time, I ended up
graduating with a B.S. in chemistry at age 18. But the
superintendent of The Mechanicsburg school system would not
give me a high school diploma, I believe because he had done the
same thing and always regretted not finishing high school!
Between my commuting and the age difference compared to the
female population, I must admit a golden opportunity to exploit
the 5 to 1 ratio of the fairer sex was totally lost on me!

My mother was not yet finished. She happened to know the
mother-in-law of the dean of the graduate school at the
University of Pittsburgh and arranged for me to meet him on a
visit to Mechanicsburg. The war was over and, with the
returning GIs, Pitt needed graduate assistants to teach chemistry
labs. So, off I went to Pittsburgh with a brand new powder-blue
tweed suit (not my idea). This was before smoke control and the
demise of the steel industry in P-burgh. That suit got worn once.
In class, the soot was so pervasive that your tablet was smudged
after taking notes and it was not unusual to argue at noon
whether that faint object was the sun or a streetlight. At any rate,
4 years later at age 22 I had a Ph. D. in physical chemistry. And
it was all due to a vaccine!!

Allen F. Bortrum



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-06/15/1999-      
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Dr. Bortrum

06/15/1999

Ticks, Shots and This Is My Life

When I was a kid we were vaccinated against small pox and
probably diphtheria and that was about it. Those of you who
read my first column (if not, you can still access it by clicking on
"Previous Articles" at the bottom) may not have been convinced
that I qualify for writing this erudite science column, still
questioning whether I did indeed receive my high school
diploma. To further reassure you, I was inducted into the
Mechanicsburg High School Alumni Association Hall of Fame
on June 18, 1994. However, they apparently decided that to
receive this honor I should be an alumnus of the school. Not an
unusual requirement! Hence the awarding of my diploma the
night before, qualifying me as a bona fide alumnus. (My fellow
classmates who were present that night of our 50th reunion dinner
may not remember my graduation, in full cap and gown to the
strains of "Pomp and Circumstance." They will recall the
distraction of the TV in the bar area showing the police chasing a
white Bronco on the Los Angeles freeways.)

What''s this got to do with vaccinations? Well, today we have
literally a plethora of options for preventing diseases such as
measles, hepatitis, pneumonia and now parents are being asked
to consider having their children get shots for preventing chicken
pox. Such a shot would have eliminated by two bouts of shingles
resulting from having chicken pox as a child.

As a golfer in New Jersey, where deer, mice and ticks abound,
the recently developed Lyme disease vaccine is a promising
development. Unfortunately, being over 70 years old, it seems as
though I don''t qualify for the vaccine. As a result, I will
continue to debate whether to pursue my many errant golf balls
into the woods or take penalty strokes - not an easy decision for
a golfer who''s only broken 100 twice in the past decade!

An article in the May issue of Discover magazine indicates that
this year is going to be a particularly bad year for Lyme disease.
This prediction is based on a study by an ecologist, Richard
Ostfeld, who has correlated the number of ticks with the amounts
of acorns in oak forests. Anyone in our area, which is loaded
with oak trees, knows that every few years there is a huge crop of
acorns. This evolutionary trait of the oak tree guarantees an
excess of acorns that escape the squirrels and other devotees of
this culinary treat. Some of this excess will sprout and propagate
the oak tree species. Mr. Ostfeld suggests that these added
acorns attracts deer and, two years later, when mice and ticks are
factored in, there''s a peak in the number of Borrelia burgdorferi,
the little bug that causes Lyme disease. Let''s call this bacterium
BB for short.

The Lyme vaccine now being promoted isn''t your run-of-the-
mill vaccine, which causes your body to develop antibodies that
later recognize and kill a particular type of bacteria. It turns out
that BB is a clever little rascal that has two different coats, one in
the tick, the other in your body. We apparently don''t know how
to penetrate BB''s coat in a human so we have to catch it in the
tick! The vaccine promotes in your body the formation of
antibodies that can penetrate the BB''s coat in a tick and kill the
little BB''s while the tick is biting you! The tick doesn''t squirt
the BB''s into you right away, giving your antibodies time to do
their job. Unfortunately, in some people the vaccine doesn''t
form the required number or type of antibodies. Also, it''s not
known how long protection lasts in those more fortunate.
There''s more work to be done.

Bortrum, you say, "What does all this have to do with your
diploma being granted at age 65?" When I was about to enter
school in Philadelphia, I had a reaction to the smallpox vaccine
and missed the first half of 1st grade. My mother, with some sort
of teaching credentials, decided to tutor me and, being an
aggressive mother, suggested to the school administration that I
had learned enough to skip first grade and the first half of second
grade. She either did a good tutoring job, or was just a good
talker, for I did skip into the last half of second grade. Years
later, after I finished my junior year in Mechanicsburg High
School, she pulled another con job on Dickinson College in
Carlisle, PA, 10 miles from Mechanicsburg. It was 1943 with
World War II underway and Dickinson, with normally a
predominantly male student body, now found itself with about 50
males and 250 females and was in financial difficulty. They
accepted me and, by going to school full-time, I ended up
graduating with a B.S. in chemistry at age 18. But the
superintendent of The Mechanicsburg school system would not
give me a high school diploma, I believe because he had done the
same thing and always regretted not finishing high school!
Between my commuting and the age difference compared to the
female population, I must admit a golden opportunity to exploit
the 5 to 1 ratio of the fairer sex was totally lost on me!

My mother was not yet finished. She happened to know the
mother-in-law of the dean of the graduate school at the
University of Pittsburgh and arranged for me to meet him on a
visit to Mechanicsburg. The war was over and, with the
returning GIs, Pitt needed graduate assistants to teach chemistry
labs. So, off I went to Pittsburgh with a brand new powder-blue
tweed suit (not my idea). This was before smoke control and the
demise of the steel industry in P-burgh. That suit got worn once.
In class, the soot was so pervasive that your tablet was smudged
after taking notes and it was not unusual to argue at noon
whether that faint object was the sun or a streetlight. At any rate,
4 years later at age 22 I had a Ph. D. in physical chemistry. And
it was all due to a vaccine!!

Allen F. Bortrum