An international team of research scientists and practicing doctors from Canada, the United States and Australia report that the bacterium that causes Lyme disease is found in 100 percent of the vaginal secretions of women and half of the semen of men suffering from Lyme disease (Journal of Investigative Medicine, 2014;62:280-281). Furthermore, a heterosexual couple with Lyme disease had exactly the same strain of the Lyme spirochete in their genital secretions. The Lyme spirochete was not found in the secretions of men and women who did not have Lyme disease. This suggests that Lyme disease can be transmitted through sexual contact.
What is Lyme Disease?
You are most likely to become infected with Lyme disease from a tick bite with a spirochete called Borrelia. It is very similar to the spirochete that causes syphilis and like syphilis, if it is not treated, it runs a long course of progressively worsening symptoms. Like syphilis, if the disease progresses untreated, it can damage
• nerves to cause pain and loss of feeling,
• the brain to cause forgetfulness and dementia,
• muscles to cause weakness and pain,
• blood vessels to burst arteries and kill you, and
• joints to cause a terrible arthritis.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
A week after the bite, 75 percent of the infected people will develop a progressively enlarging red circle at the site of the tick bite. This circle goes away without treatment. Weeks or months later, a person may suffer fever, headache, weakness and tiredness, loss of memory, and pain and weakness in the arms and legs. Then the spirochete can damage joints, heart, nerves and brain. An infected person may develop joint swelling and pain, loss of control of the facial muscles, and numbness and tingling all over the body. Early treatment with antibiotics usually cures the disease.
Why This New Research Is Very Important
More than 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed each year in the United States. Lyme disease occurs twice as frequently as breast cancer and six times more frequently than AIDS. Many scientists have suspected that Lyme disease may be sexually transmitted, but this is the first study to show that the Lyme spirochete is found living in the genital secretions of infected people.
What This Study Should Mean to You
The authors say: “There is always some risk of getting Lyme disease from a tick bite in the woods, but there may be a bigger risk of getting Lyme disease in the bedroom.” If you suffer from chronic fatigue, muscle weakness and pain, joint pain, loss of feeling and tingling, or forgetfulness, ask your doctor for a test for Lyme disease, called Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). In the early stages of Lyme disease the test can be negative, so, even if the test is negative, all people with an expanding circle around a tick bite should be treated with antibiotics for at least three weeks. Sometimes the ELISA test can be falsely positive in people who do not have Lyme disease, so your doctor may not treat you unless your Lyme Western blot is also positive. I think that this is foolish because untreated Lyme disease can kill you. I have treated all of my symptomatic patients who had a positive ELISA test. This study suggests that perhaps their partners should be treated as well.