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Medical entomologist who discovered Lyme disease bacteria dies

Wilhelm "Willy" Burgdorfer, the man who serendipitously found the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, died Monday in Hamilton, Montana, from complications of Parkinson's disease. He was 89.

Burgdorfer was born in Basel, Switzerland, and moved to Montana in 1951 to perform tick surgery; he would dissect ticks to find out how they spread diseases, The New York Times reports. While studying deer ticks from Long Island in 1982, Burgdorfer discovered spirochetes, or corkscrew-shaped bacteria that cause disease. Although he wasn't studying Lyme disease — known then as Lyme arthritis — at the time, he soon determined that this was the way the disease was spread.

Burgdorfer spent much of his career studying the illnesses that can be spread by blood-feeding insects, and he became immortalized once the bacterium that causes Lyme disease was named after him: Borrelia burgdorferi.