Sexual transmission of Lyme Disease

– EDIT –

There is an excellent and very thorough new analysis of this issue, in two parts, at

http://campother.blogspot.com/2014/03/part-1-sexual-transmission-of-lyme.html

and

http://campother.blogspot.com/2014/04/part-2-sexual-transmission-of-lyme.html

While it is a blog post, it is more recent than mine and at least as thorough if not more. I encourage those interested in the topic to read it.

– END EDIT –

 

I’ve been wondering on and off for some time whether I need to worry about sexual transmission of Lyme disease. Now I’ll be honest, although I love my spouse very much, it hasn’t been that much of an issue in the last year or two. But I’m starting to feel a little better, and the last thing I want to do is create a husband who can’t get off the couch just when I’m able to enjoy him.

Humor aside, I decided to do a literature review for myself on the issue. Not being an expert in this field, I am trying very hard to avoid much interpretation of these results, but here’s a raw dump of what I found (note: Bb, and Borrelia Burgdorferi both refer to the causative agent of Lyme disease, the spirochete Borrelia Burgdorferi and (in some cases) related strains that also cause Lyme disease).

  • Some animal studies have included tests of sexual transmission. For example in a 1991 study Moody and Barthold infected rats and exposed uninfected rats to them [1]. One group just had contact, another group was pregnant, a third was tested for venereal transmission. In no case did infection occur.  A similar 1999 study by Woodrum & Oliver showed no transmission. Because I can only access the abstracts, one thing that’s unclear is how long these studies went on for. For example, if sexual transmission is possible, it might be so infrequent that many many animals must be tested or very long periods of time must pass before sexual transmission would be found. Jenna’s Lyme Blog mentions some studies I was unable to track down that may have demonstrated sexual transmission.
  • As far as I could find, this has not been studied in human settings. That means that there are no studies proving sexual transmission, but also none disproving it.
    • There are anecdotal reports that suggest sexual transmission may be possible. One example is the many reports of lyme patients whose partners are also infected. However, I was unable to find any research quantifying how often this happens or explaining whether it is simply similar exposure to tick-infested environments that cause this.
    • Another example is the article by Gasser et al. [3]. However, this is a letter to the editor and not a peer reviewed article, which makes it less trustworthy as a source of evidence. Also, the evidence for sexual transmission is weak (“no memory of a primary infection” on the part of the husband).
    • One article hypothesizes that sexual transmission may occur (it was published in a journal called “Medical Hypotheses”). In this article [4], Harvey & Salvato state “Inferential data, however, suggest the possibility of human sexual transfer. The data come from sound veterinary studies, [and] the finding of Bb in human semen and breast milk.” The authors also mention the similarity of Bb to syphilis. Unfortunately, their choice of references seems odd – I could only access abstracts, but the first appears to show congenital transmission and to question why cattle in a non-endemic area would have infection, it is not a controlled test of sexual transmission based on the abstract. The second, similarly, is titled “Evidence for in-utero transmission …” and appears to focus exclusively on that. The third is about dogs and congenital lyme. I’m not really sure why any of them is referenced as evidence for venereal (sexual) transmission.
  • It appears that Bb can be present in human semen up to 40% of the time [5]. However the referenced article was submitted as an abstract to a conference and (as far as I can tell with a quick google search) never published in a journal. Why not? Also, the presence of Bb in semen does not necessarily indicate that it can infect someone.

To summarize, I was unable to find any peer-reviewed evidence of sexual transmission in human or animal studies. However, I did not find a large number of studies that showed a lack of sexual transmission, nor could I track down enough details to judge how thoroughly they tested the hypothesis. Also, I did find some articles that claimed that sexual transmission could happen, but was not able to find clear evidence backing them up, and most were not published in peer-reviewed journals. I was disappointed to see that the one review article on the subject ([4]) did not have solid references for its claim that sexual transmission was possible. Presumably they had the resources to track this down more carefully than I do.

To be honest, I am frustrated by these results and wish that I had more clarity. My LLMD has assured me that there’s nothing to worry about and the studies I found certainly seem to agree. My gut says be careful — Lyme is not something to wish on anyone else, much less give to them. It doesn’t help that so many articles about other aspects of Lyme disease stand in stark disagreement to each other — I have been conditioned to question every research result I find at this point.

I should note that there appears to be far more research on and evidence for the possibility of congenital lyme disease. “Anecdotal” stories in humans are also much easier to take as proof in this case — if a newborn infant tests positive for Bb, it’s hard to argue that this was acquired through a tick bite! A natural question is whether blood transfusions can be a source of infection. I have not researched either congenital transmission of Lyme disease or issues with blood transfusion myself, but you may want to think about whether to give blood if you are infected. Another limitation of this review is that I did not look for research on the possibility of sexual transmission among Lyme co-infections.

[1] Moody, K. D. & Barthold, S. W. (1991) Relative Infectivity of Borriela Burgdorferi in Lewis Rats by Various Routes of Inoculation. Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 44(2):135-139. Abstract

[2] Woodrum, J. E. & Oliver, J. H. (1999) Investigation of venereal, transplacental, and contact transmission of the lyme disease spirochete, Borrelia Burgdorferi, in syrian hamsters. J. Parasitol. 85(3):426-430.

[3] Gasser, R., Dusleag, J., Reisinger, E., Stauber, R., Grisold, M., Pongratz, S., Furian, C., Feigl, B., & Klein, W. (1994) A most unusual case of a whole family suffering from late lyme borreliosis over 20 years. Letter to the Editor, Angiology 45(1):85-??. First page

[4] Harvey, W. T. & Salvato, P. (2003) ‘Lyme disease': ancient engine of an unrecognized borreliosis pandemic?. Medical Hypotheses, 60(5):742-59.

[5] Bach, G. (2001) Recovery of lyme spirochetes by PCR in semen samples of previously diagnosed lyme disease patients, Presented at the International Scientific Conference on Lyme Disease

39 Comments

  1. Lyme Mama said,

    August 18, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    My hubby has an extremely low heart rate, a babesia like cough and an irregular heart beat.

    He didn’t really start showing symptoms until I started treatment.

    Sympathy? I think I passed Babesia when the Lyme treatment started kicking it up. It would be interesting to research whether or not co-infections might be easier to pass. My kids have all that I have: Bart, Bb and Babs. And they have matching bands on their igenex.

    I’m curious, cautious and concerned most of the time. If you need access to some of those articles, let me know. I have access to darn near anything through my University.

  2. jmankoff said,

    August 20, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    If you can share full versions of those papers, I’d appreciate it, and update my post if I learn anything new/different.

  3. Athy said,

    August 26, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    I’ve been researching lyme for about 5 yrs.. had it for 6. I was with my ex boyfriend for over 3 years while I had lyme and he never got it from me. We definitely had plenty of regular fun in the bedroom during that time and although I was paranoid about it, he never got any symptoms and is still healthy as a horse. So it’s hard to say.

    The entire time I was treating my lyme with a rife machine. Most treatments do not “kick up” the lyme spirochetes, but in fact suppress the organisms in cyst or dormant form (such as antibiotics, herbs, some supplements). Rife doesn’t, and magnesium helps bring them out because the lyme/coinfections need it as a main nutrient. Salt/c doesn’t suppress it either but keeps it killed off in your blood, same with Steven Buhner’s herbal protocol, so perhaps that’s what kept my ex bf safe?

    It seems like a lot of the spouses who claim their husband/wife got it from them also live in a tick-endemic area, so who’s to say if the spouse just got bitten unknowingly?

  4. Athy said,

    August 26, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Oh I’m sorry, I misunderstood the previous poster… she was referring to the lyme/co-infection layers.. when you get lyme more under control the co-infection symptoms star being more prominent. My bad :).

  5. Chasz said,

    September 2, 2009 at 11:55 pm

    Hey there,

    Nice piece of writing and a very nice looking site. I do a search on “Lyme contagious” etc. now and again and your site is a welcome professional looking addition to the slowly increasing movement of people wondering if it might not be prudent to do more research on the whole Lyme seksual issue. And who also feel that statements should be backed up by facts as far as those facts actually exist.

    I’ve put up a post with my story, some more and some of the same scientific studies in it. http://www.healingwell.com/community/default.aspx?f=30&m=1488321

  6. September 5, 2009 at 3:08 am

    Very good insight on Behcet’s Disease. If you are health thank Goodness and feel like a million dollars. If you are not very health remember prevention is always better than cure.

  7. Barefoot said,

    April 15, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Thanks for this review, which has been the most helpful thing I’ve found. I was dx’ed with Lyme in August 2009, and only recently connected lyme being a spirochete and the possibility of sexual transmission. I have been in touch with old girlfriends and asked about it, and though they appreciate the concern none felt they were at any risk, or had ever had any kind of symptoms. Their boyfriends, husbands and kids haven’t either.

    My current girlfriends unfazed, and joke they can’t possibly get sick, with all the antibiotics and vitamins they get from me.

  8. Jim said,

    July 21, 2010 at 6:51 am

    I too am concerned about my wife contracting this horrible disease. I have neurological LYME contracted in Georgia and have been fighting it for a year. I wish I could find definite proof one way or the other to settle this. This is so frustrating.

  9. Paul said,

    December 23, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Thank you for this information. I’m the husband/father of a family going through Lyme treatment. We have a summer place in the Thousand Islands on the St. Lawrence River and my wife got a bull’s eye tick bite over 2 years ago and my daughters’ and I tested, still test positive too.

    My wife is a L&D nurse and is very health oriented, so much of our research, treatment choices, has come from her. She once was very concerned about unprotected sex based on much of the same information that everyone seems to have found on the web. However, the concern died down when sex wasn’t nearly as fun with a condom. For the past 2 years, we have succeeded in not getting pregnant simply using the rhythm method, i.e. much less fluid exchange but obviously not zero. My wife just recently had her tube’s tied (way late on one of us taking the measure to ensure no more kids) but now I/my wife are concerned about, for lack of a less explicit phase, “going all the way”… because of the Lyme/co-infection fear issue.

    If anyone has any more information than is on this blog, or objective thoughts, please post!

  10. christine said,

    September 2, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    i got it from my boyfriend through sex! it is transmitted especially man to woman!

  11. James said,

    September 3, 2011 at 10:36 am

    I too have been worrying / researching this for 3 years. I have not had “relations for the past 3 years with my wife because of this fear. I do not wish this disease on anyone. Thank you for putting together the information. Allot of it looks like the same dead ends I have found.

  12. jmankoff said,

    September 3, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    For what it’s worth, my husband does not have any symptoms of Lyme disease, after a year or so of assuming that sexual transmission is not an issue.

  13. lymegirl46 said,

    October 3, 2011 at 11:16 am

    I go to one of the best, if not the best Lyme disease specialist in the United States. Before he began to treat Lyme disease, he was a top HIV specialist. In his words, ” to say Lyme disease cannot be sexually transmitted is like saying Tea can make it through a strainer but water cannot.” The bacteria that causes Lyme disease is in the same family with as the bacteria that causes Syphilis. ( spirochete form bacteria ). We all know Syphilis can be transmitted sexually. Wrote a brochure that was reviewed and approved by Lyme specialists. Would be happy to send a copy to anyone interested. I am on youtube under: Lyme disease brochure. God bless

  14. lymegirl46 said,

    October 3, 2011 at 11:18 am

    I go to one of the best, if not the best Lyme disease specialist in the United States. Before he began to treat Lyme disease, he was a top HIV specialist. In his words, ” to say Lyme disease cannot be sexually transmitted is like saying Tea can make it through a strainer but water cannot.” The bacteria that causes Lyme disease is in the same family as the bacteria that causes Syphilis. ( spirochete form bacteria ). We all know Syphilis can be transmitted sexually. Wrote a brochure that was reviewed and approved by Lyme specialists. Would be happy to send a copy to anyone interested. I am on youtube under: Lyme disease brochure. God bless

  15. Lymebyassociation said,

    May 3, 2012 at 11:25 am

    I’m sorry to tell you all but I DID in fact get Lyme and coinfections from my husband. He passed it to me prior to him getting extremely ill with it. EVEN his LLDR said I could not have contracted it from him but HE got the tick bite from hiking and I was not with him. Because I was not treated right away even tho I was having symptoms I am much worse than he has ever been. Everytime the issue was brought up I was told it was sympathy pains…B.S. !!!!! IT CAN BE PASSED!!!!! I am paying the price for ignorance…and honestly I see no end in sight or relief from my pain!

  16. Lyme said,

    May 9, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Thanks for sharing this I have been looking for dozens of research papers and seemingly Lyme is NOT a STD.

  17. Lyme Disease said,

    May 27, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Sexual transmission is still in question (more research is needed.

  18. Lymebyassociation said,

    May 27, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    Its doesnt need research from my stand point! Its NOT a question for me! I DIDNT have it. I DIDNT have a tick bite…My husband had it….I GOT IT!

  19. lymegirl46 said,

    May 29, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    It is not about the research …….it is about common sense. The bacteria that causes Lyme disease is in the same family with the bacteria that causes Syphilis.

  20. NIky Fontaine said,

    July 24, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    It is catcher, viral, bacterial, whatever you call this lyme, I did give it to my two boyfriends, (one my husband now).In few months,apart, both start to have same symptoms , pains, etc, very much known to me, as a deja vu… so no research, please, in 8 years I did my research and without sex my dear friends got it from me also, is visible and hearible!Lyme and co infections is the deadly disease around the world, I see it all over traveling, is the deadly,,molima” and nothing we can do, so get your own treatment, do your own doctor-play and say OK in front of the real doctors,there is a no win situation.

  21. Cheri said,

    August 8, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    I thought I would join in this conversation just in case it could help anyone. I too got lyme disease and bartonella from my husband. I agree with another woman above who stated it is easier for it to be passed from man to woman. I have never had a tick bite, and my husband got it in Missouri. I am from California. I did not get it from him while we were using a condom, but we decided to try to get pregnant before he was diagnosed, and that is when I got it. My lyme specialist said it was possible but rare, so we did not start treatment right away. I have now had it for two years with not much improvement. I also definitely got bartonella as well, but I am still not sure about babesia since he has that too. Does anyone have experience with that? There is absolutely no doubt in my mind it can be passed sexually and I am living proof. Please be careful.

  22. kyliewrites said,

    October 29, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    Like most of you I have ended up here because after 2 years having Lyme disease I am still wondering if it’s sexually transmissible. My gut tells me it is and judging from all of your comments, given the right conditions it is sexually transmissible despite what the ‘experts’ say. So thank you. That’s enough clarity for me! Exercise extreme caution!

    Bless you all. I know what you’re going through and I hope you all find your pathway to complete health :)

  23. Lost Cafe said,

    January 15, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    Thanks for your marvelous posting! I actually enjoyed reading it, you could be a great author.I will make sure to bookmark your blog on our office computer in Fraserburgh and will come back sometime soon. I want to encourage yourself to continue your great writing, have a nice day!

  24. Anonymous said,

    May 1, 2013 at 5:15 am

    I hope you guys are all wrong. I am carrier of the borrelia for probably my whole life and I have some ex-girlfriends… I only tend to get sick after major incidents like surgery (happened twice). But looking back, with two girlfriends I see the same path when you get a bit more close, we tend to sleep longer and more often together, we don’t go out that much anymore. My current girlfriend is developing back and neck pain since I met her.

    I really really hope you are all wrong and that there is no STD but simply a tick bit that was unnoticed (really common, rates vary from 50 to 70% unnoticed). But maybe the high percentage of unnoticed tick bits are explained by the borrelia being an STD.
    That said, you cannot simply say that the borrelia is a STD because syfilis is.

    The CDC has the following statement on the subject:
    The following are some of the false arguments put forth to suggest sexual transmission:

    Borrelia burgdorferi and Treponema pallidum (the cause of syphilis) are both spirochetes (cork screw shaped bacteria). Therefore, B. burgdorferi can be transmitted like syphilis. Not true. Although B. burgdorferi and T. pallidum are both spirochetes, they are not closely related. More importantly, they behave very differently within humans in ways that affect their potential for sexual transmission. T. pallidum spirochetes produce moist, superficial skin lesions (e.g., chancres on the genital, anal or oral mucosa) that contain enormous numbers of living spirochetes and are crucial to transmission by sexual contact. In contrast, B. burgdorferi spirochetes cannot survive on the surface of the skin or genital mucosa. They are present only in sparse numbers and only in the deep inner layers of the skin. Whereas syphilis spirochetes can penetrate the skin directly, Lyme disease spirochetes require a highly ordered metabolic process associated with feeding by certain species of ticks.

    Borrelia burgdorferi has been isolated from breast milk and semen. Actually, it hasn’ t. A single study reportedly found evidence of Borrelia DNA in breast milk using a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay. PCR assays detect DNA from dead or living organisms, do not demonstrate the presence of living organisms, and are prone to false positive results. Peer-reviewed and published studies of semen have involved collecting semen from animals, inoculating the semen with bacterial growth media and millions of B. burgdorferi, and then artificially inseminating the animal with the media containing experimentally B. burgdorferi infected semen. The results of these studies provide no evidence that B. burgdorferi occurs naturally in semen.

    Husband and wife both have Lyme disease, and at least one doesn’ t remember a tick bite. It is not uncommon for more than one person in a household to develop Lyme disease. This occurs because household members share the same environment where infected ticks are abundant. Patients are often unaware of having been bitten because the ticks that transmit Lyme disease are extremely small.

  25. Elaine said,

    May 1, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    Borrelia burgdorferi has been found in bones, tissue, ALL BODY FLUIDS and in every human organ. My LLMD was offered permanent protection from medical boards if he moved his practice to Washington DC. Before treating Lyme disease patients, he was a top HIV doctor. I think (my opinion), he is the “EINSTEIN” of Lyme and he believes whole-heartedly that Lyme disease can be sexually transmitted.

  26. jmankoff said,

    May 3, 2013 at 4:45 am

    Glad to see this is an ongoing and active discussion. For my own part, I ended up deciding to have unprotected sex with my husband. As far as I know my husband does not have it (he has not been tested). I still don’t know what to think about the evidence. Could the poster with the CDC quote provide any references to back up the studies of infected semen not causing transmission?

  27. Frank said,

    May 14, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    My Wife got it from me and so did my daughter from saliva,when she finished a pop I was drinking Both have it and both are sick,its an epidemic and the Govt dosent care.Research my ass,its in the blood too,tranfussions will also pass it on.

  28. Corinne said,

    July 17, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Hi everyone! I have lyme Disease and sure my husband has it. I became ill five years ago and have just been told I have it. Thank goodness I finally have a diagnosis after been diagnosed with 14 autoimmune disorders without clarification.

    My daughter and I remember me having the rash after camping. Living in Alberta, Canada many doctors didn’t believe Lyme Disease could be here. Yet, I camp in an area that screams Lyme Disease and have witnessed them.

    I believe/sure my husband has Lyme Disease through sexual transmission We have similar symptoms such organ damage and dysfunction with me being more advanced. My husband’s specialist are now looking at the possibility.

    . .

  29. Corinne said,

    July 17, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Sorry, I hit enter too quickly!

    Previously, when I stated, “and have witnessed them” I was intending on mentioning ticks.

    Take care,
    Corinne

  30. John said,

    August 21, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    I hope it’s not contagious, and that my girlfriend hasn’t contracted it from me, but I don’t know whether she has it, because she hasn’t been tested, and it’s not clear whether her various ailments have worsened since she met me.

    The main reason I’m posting this is so that I can receive notifications of future comments, which will hopefully provide more clarity on this issue.

  31. Joe said,

    September 5, 2013 at 6:42 am

    I have researched this very question for about 8 years now. In my well researched, but non-medical opinion, lyme can be transmitted from one person to another, although it is quite rare and difficult to do so. However, bartonella (and possibly other co-infections) is much easier to transmit than Lyme borreliosis.

    I now believe that I have transmitted bartonella to at least two women. They both developed symptoms about a month after we started dating (in the winter time when no biting insects were present) despite the fact that I never had unprotected sex with either.

    Perhaps certain strains of bartonella and other co-infections are highly contagious while others are not? Maybe some people who have the disease do not have the bacteria present in their semen or saliva while others do? Or maybe it depends on the immune system of the person having sex with the infected individual? Or, most likely, all three are factors that effect transmission. These are all questions that need answering.

  32. Joe said,

    September 5, 2013 at 6:51 am

    Just to clarify my post above, I think a lot of people who swear they have given lyme to a sexual partner have actually transmitted a co-infection (i.e bartonella) and not lyme itself. In my case, I believe I transmitted bartonella to at least two women by exchanging saliva.

  33. Engel said,

    November 18, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    I think my boyfriend during summer is sick with Lyme. I caught it in 2006 and have very few problems now. He is working far away now but is complaining of losing weight and feeling feverish. We thought it was because we were missing each other that he was sick! I’m beginning to wonder if it could be Lyme contacted by French kissing & other sexual acts……

  34. John said,

    January 27, 2014 at 7:21 am

    Lyme Disease May Be Sexually Transmitted, Study Suggests http://www.onlineprnews.com/news/454866-1390261507-lyme-disease-may-be-sexually-transmitted-study-suggests.html

  35. jmankoff said,

    January 27, 2014 at 9:22 am

    Thanks! I’d been meaning to write that one up but haven’t had a chance to track down the original yet. Good to raise awareness of it in any case.

  36. jmankoff said,

    February 10, 2014 at 10:00 am

    Here is an interview with the authors of the study that discusses the methodology in more depth. Still no peer reviewed publication, but that can take time. From the interview, it looks like the tests involved live culture. That’s very concerning, but leaves open only the question of how transmission to the partner would occur. Given the finding of identical strains in partners, this is even more concerning. http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/99786

  37. jmankoff said,

    May 28, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    There is an excellent and very thorough new analysis of this issue, in two parts, at

    http://campother.blogspot.com/2014/03/part-1-sexual-transmission-of-lyme.html

    and

    http://campother.blogspot.com/2014/04/part-2-sexual-transmission-of-lyme.html

    While it is a blog post, it is more recent than mine and at least as thorough if not more. I encourage those interested in the topic to read it.

  38. Johanna said,

    September 17, 2014 at 9:04 am

    Today, I went to the beach front with my children.
    I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old
    daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to her ear and screamed.
    There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants
    to go back! LoL I know this is totally off topic
    but I had to tell someone!


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