Written by Marjorie Hecht
Medically reviewed by Gerhard Whitworth, RNon
June 11, 2019
Lyme Disease Transmission: Can It Spread from Person to Person?
- Transmission via tick
- Bodily fluids
- Sexual transmission
- Blood transfusion
- In pregnancy
Can you catch Lyme disease from someone else? The short answer is no. There’s no direct evidence that Lyme disease is contagious. The exception is pregnant women, who can transmit it to their fetus.
Lyme disease is a systemic infection caused by spirochete bacteria transmitted by black-legged deer ticks. The corkscrew-shaped bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, are similar to the spirochete bacteria that cause syphilis.
Lyme disease can become debilitating for some people and life-threatening if it isn’t treated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source estimates that 300,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with Lyme each year. But many cases may go unreported. Other studies suggest that the incidence of Lyme may be as high as 1 million cases per year.
Diagnosis is challenging because Lyme symptoms mimic those of many other diseases.
Historical facts about Lyme
- Lyme takes its name from the Connecticut town where several children developed what looked like rheumatoid arthritis in the 1970s. The culprit was thought to be a tick bite.
- In 1982, scientist Willy Burgdorfer identified the bacterial causeTrusted Source of the illness. The tick-borne bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, is named after him.
- Lyme isn’t a new disease. Lyme-type spirochetes were found in the Tyrolean IcemanTrusted Source, a 5,300-year-old well-preserved body discovered in the Alps in 1991.
What’s the most common way to get Lyme?
Blacklegged deer ticks infected with Borrelia burgdorferi transmit the Lyme bacteria when they bite. The ticks, Ixodes scapularis (Ixodes pacificus on the West Coast), can also transmit other disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and parasites. These are called coinfections.
A tick requires a blood meal at each stage of its life — as larvae, nymphs, and adults. Ticks normally feed on animals, ground-feeding birds, or reptiles. Humans are a secondary blood source.
Most bites to humans are from tick nymphs, which are the size of poppy seeds. It’s hard to spot them, even on open skin. The prime seasons for human tick bites are late spring and summer.
As an infected tick feeds on you, it injects spirochetes into your blood. Animal researchTrusted Source has shown that the severity (virulence) of infection varies, depending on whether the spirochetes are from the tick’s salivary glands or the tick’s midgut. In this animal research, infection required 14 times more midgut spirochetes than saliva spirochetes.
Depending on the tick’s bacterial virulence, you could be infected with Lyme within 24 hoursTrusted Sourceof the tick bite.
Can you get Lyme from bodily fluids?
Lyme bacteria may be found in bodily fluids, such as:
- breast milk
But there’s no hard evidence that Lyme spreads from person to person via contact with bodily fluids. So don’t worry about kissing someone with Lyme.
Can you get Lyme from sexual transmission?
There’s no direct evidence that Lyme is sexually transmitted by humans. Lyme experts are divided about the possibility.
“The evidence for sexual transmission that I’ve seen is very weak and certainly not conclusive in any scientific sense,” Dr. Elizabeth Maloney told Healthline. Maloney is president of the Partnership for Tick-Borne Diseases Education.
Dr. Sam Donta, another Lyme researcher, agreed.
On the other hand, Lyme researcher Dr. Raphael Stricker told Healthline,
“There’s no reason why the Lyme spirochete can’t be sexually transmitted by human beings. How commonly it occurs, or how difficult it is, we don’t know.”
Stricker has called for a “Manhattan Project” approach to Lyme, including more research.
It’s not ethical to test sexual transmission by deliberately infecting humans, as was done with syphilis in the past. (The syphilis spirochete is transmitted sexually.)
A 2014 studyTrusted Source found live Lyme spirochetes in semen and vaginal secretions of people with documented Lyme. But this doesn’t necessarily mean there are enough spirochetes to spread infection.
Can you get Lyme from a blood transfusion?
There are no documented cases of Lyme transmission via a blood transfusion.
But the Lyme spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi has been isolated from human blood, and an older 1990 research studyTrusted Source found that Lyme spirochetes could survive the normal blood bank storage procedures. For this reason, the CDCTrusted Source recommends that people being treated for Lyme shouldn’t donate blood.
On the other hand, there have been more than 30 cases of transfusion-transmitted babesiosis, a parasite coinfection of the same black-legged tick that transmits Lyme.
Can Lyme be transmitted during pregnancy?
A pregnant woman with untreated Lyme can transmit the infectionTrusted Source to the fetus. But if they receive adequate treatment for Lyme, adverse effects are unlikely.
A 2009 studyTrusted Source of 66 pregnant women found that untreated women had a significantly higher risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes.
Infection from the mother to the fetus can occur within the first three months of pregnancy, according to Donta. If the mother is untreated, the infection would result in congenital abnormalities or miscarriage.
There’s no credible evidence, Donta said, that maternal-to-fetal transmission manifests itself months to years later in the child.
Lyme treatment for pregnant women is the same as for others with Lyme, except that antibiotics in the tetracycline family shouldn’t be used.
Can you get Lyme from your pets?
There’s no evidence of direct transmission of Lyme from pets to humans. But dogs and other domestic animals can bring Lyme-carrying ticks into your home. These ticks could attach to you and cause infection.
It’s a good practice to check your pets for ticks after they’ve been in tall grass, underbrush, or wooded areas where ticks are common.
Symptoms to watch for if you’ve been around ticks
The symptoms of Lyme vary widely and mimic those of many other diseases. Here are some common symptoms:
- flat red rash, shaped like an oval or bull’s-eye (but note that you can still have Lyme without this rash)
- flu symptoms such as headache, fever, and general malaise
- joint pain or swelling
- light sensitivity
- emotional or cognitive changes
- neurological problems such as loss of balance
- heart problems
Again, there’s no direct evidence of person-to-person transmission of Lyme. If someone you live with has Lyme and you develop symptoms, it’s most likely because you’re both exposed to the same tick population around you.
Take preventive measures if you’re in an area where there are ticks (and deer):
- Wear long pants and long sleeves.
- Spray yourself with an effective insect repellent.
- Check yourself and your pets for ticks if you’ve been in an area where there are ticks.
Lyme is an underreported epidemic in the United States. Diagnosis is challenging because Lyme symptoms are like those of many other diseases.
There’s no evidence that Lyme is contagious. The one documented exception is that pregnant women can transmit the infection to their fetus.
Lyme and its treatment are controversial topics. More research and research funding are needed.
If you suspect you have Lyme, see a doctor, preferably one who has Lyme experience. The International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) can provide a list of Lyme-aware doctors in your area.
**Please see link at top of page for Sources**
Sigh…..here we go again.
“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!”
Since borrelia is extremely evasive and difficult to culture and observe due to its affinity to sequester in tissues, & organs including the brain, prudence would err on the side of caution – which has not been the case historically.
Please understand that both Donta and Maloney (I respect them both) are highly vested in mainstream medicine due to their current roles. Donta is on the tick-borne disease working group and Maloney offers continuing medical education to doctors. Both feel the acute pressure of mainstream medicine and it’s emphasis on peer-reviewed, double blind placebo studies. Problem is – those things don’t exist for Lyme/MSIDS. This monster just doesn’t fit into that paradigm at present and nobody’s doing the required work, which is: https://madisonarealymesupportgroup.com/2018/04/13/chronic-lyme-post-mortem-study-needed-to-end-the-lyme-wars/
Since Lyme/MSIDS is such a controversial subject, those in the spotlight, such as Donta and Maloney have taken a rigid stand that unless science has proven it, it’s unlikely.
Dr. Stricker, on the other hand, is still treating patients and sees a different reality.
That’s an important distinction. Notice the two viewpoints:
- Donta & Maloney: The evidence is weak and inconclusive and therefore unlikely.
- Stricker: There’s no reason why Lyme can’t be spread sexually….
In sum, while there is no DIRECT evidence, there’s plenty of indirect evidence and studies showing transmission by numerous means:
Genital lesions (By Dr. MacDonald who states he predicted Lyme transmission in the bedroom in 1986)
…results show that DNA of Borrelia afzelii, Borrelia bavariensis and Borrelia garinii could be detected in ten Culicidae species comprising four distinct genera (Aedes, Culiseta, Culex, and Ochlerotatus). Positive samples also include adult specimens raised in the laboratory from wild-caught larvae indicating that transstadial and/or transovarial transmission might occur within a given mosquito population.
BTW: the last study on the potential of other bugs transmitting Lyme (minus the German study on mosquitos) was done over 30 years ago. And, while no spirochetes were isolated from the hamsters, antibodies were found – even back then.
All I can say is I wished I knew about the potential of sexual transmission. This knowledge could have potentially spared me from disease which has been life-changing to say the least.
One thing’s for sure – the research is screaming to be done, yet The Cabal prefers to sit on their ivory tower and just proclaim the only way for you to become infected with Lyme is solely through the bite of the black-legged tick.