You may have heard some discussion lately on the sexual transmission of Lyme Disease. If you haven’t heard it, you will. Combine sex with the word disease, and you immediately have two subjects in which nearly 100% of the people on earth will be interested. If advertisers love any news, it is news about matters that touch people personally. Sex and disease both fit that criterion.
Lyme Disease Studies
So what’s the latest information on this subject? Much of the news is old news. At the 14th International Scientific Conference on Lyme Disease in April 2001, Dr. Gregory Back presented a paper on “Recovery of Lyme Spirochetes by PCR in Semen Samples of Previously Diagnosed Lyme Disease Patients.” The first thing to understand about this paper is that 40% of the 132 partners studied (66 couples) were both found to be infected with Lyme Disease. Lyme Disease, Science and Society looked at this research and after examining the evidence of this early study stated:
There are unanswered questions about this study based on the abstract: We don’t know what kind of microscopic confirmation was conducted and why it was mostly conducted on semen. We don’t know if patients had other possible routes of exposure to spirochetes. We don’t know if the DNA sequences recovered matched between sexual partners. We don’t know whether any of the patients who were sampled had recently taken antibiotics and if the spirochetal DNA that was detected was the result of their bodies trying to purge a massive die-off of spirochetes. What kind of treatment patients in the study had received so far is an unknown.
As you can see, the individuals in the study were not tested before finding a Lyme infection, to establish when the infection occurred. There was also no evidence of actual transmission or research into the exact origin of the partner’s infection, the only evidence that both partners had Lyme Disease. Since partners live in the same environment, it’s possible that one partner didn’t remember being bitten by a tick. Nymph ticks are the size of a poppy-seed and challenging to detect. Due to their small size, they are often not found by their human host unless seen fully engorged with blood. Simply stated, it’s a leap to identify two related patients and make a jump that one gave the other any disease. For example, if a husband has the flu, his wife may think he gave it to her. She may have gotten it from someone at work. Infectious diseases in the real world don’t always neatly move in the direction we expect.
Other studies claim that the spirochetes of syphilis and those of Lyme Disease are similar. While it’s true they are similar; they do not share the same environmental preferences. Lyme spirochetes don’t survive very long on the surface of the skin. However, syphilis spirochetes do very well in moist superficial skin lesions.
If detected during pregnancy, Lyme Disease can be easily treated in the mother with antibiotics that do not harm the fetus. The CDC says, “Untreated Lyme disease during pregnancy may lead to infection of the placenta and possible stillbirth.” Lymediseaseassociation.org says, “The bacteria can also be passed through the placenta of a pregnant woman to the fetus—congenital transmission.” Since a Lyme infection occurs through the blood, it makes sense a fetus can become infected.
When considering breast milk in mothers, the DNA of Lyme Disease has been found. This does not mean it has been proven that a newborn can get Lyme Disease through breast milk, only that evidence of the disease is present in the milk. There have not been any cases linking breast milk in the transmission of Lyme Disease.
Researchers know that the Lyme bacteria can survive blood bank storage conditions. Once again, there have been no suspected cases of Lyme transmission through blood transfusions. However, animal studies do show that Lyme bacteria can be transmitted through blood transfusions in mice.
The CDC does not consider the transmission of Lyme Disease through sexual intimacy very likely. As mentioned earlier, there is anecdotal evidence of possible sexual transmission, but much more research needs to be done. There are already enough sexually transmitted diseases for everyone to be concerned about transmitting to their sexual partners, without knowing if Lyme Disease is one of them. Taking precautions regarding any infection someone may have, on behalf of sexual partners, should be common sense behavior.
Scientists know that it generally takes 24-36 hours before a tick can transmit Lyme Disease through its bite. Therefore, even with a tick carrying Lyme Disease, it takes some time for the infection to be transmitted. Once established a Lyme infection can be long-lasting. Even after successful treatment and test results showing no Lyme Disease is present, Lyme spirochetes, B. burgdorferi, can be present in small numbers in patients for years. Until further research is done, it only seems prudent to be safe until a physician confirms a Lyme infection no longer exists.
Contact Mosquito Squad of Greater Washington DC to learn more about protecting yourself and your family from the risks of tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme Disease in your backyard!