Marianne J. Middelveen1, Jennie Burke2, Eva Sapi3, Hilary A. Schlinger1, Peter J. Mayne1, Raphael B. Stricker1
“Our findings will change the way Lyme disease is viewed by doctors and patients,” said Marianne Middelveen, lead author of the published study. “It explains why the disease is more common than one would think if only ticks were involved in transmission.”
In the study, researchers tested semen samples and vaginal secretions from three groups of people: control subjects without evidence of Lyme disease, individual patients who tested positive for Lyme disease, and couples engaging in unprotected sex who tested positive for the disease.
As expected, all of the control subjects tested negative for Borrelia burgdorferi in cultures of semen samples or vaginal secretions. In contrast, twelve of thirteen patients with Lyme disease had positive cultures for Borrelia burgdorferi in their genital secretions. Furthermore, two of the couples with Lyme disease showed identical strains of the Lyme spirochete in their semen and vaginal secretions, while a third couple showed identical strains of a related Borrelia spirochete in their genital secretions.
“The presence of live spirochetes in genital secretions and identical strains in sexually active couples strongly suggests that sexual transmission of Lyme disease occurs,” said Dr. Mayne, who recently published the first comprehensive study of Lyme disease in Australia. “We need to do more research to determine the risk of sexual transmission of this syphilis-like organism.”
Carmel, CA – A new study suggests that Lyme disease may be sexually transmitted. The study was presented at the annual Western Regional Meeting of the American Federation for Medical Research, and an abstract of the research was published in the January issue of the Journal of Investigative Medicine.
Lyme disease is a tick-borne infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a type of corkscrew- shaped bacteria known as a spirochete (pronounced spiro’keet). The Lyme spirochete resembles the agent of syphilis, long recognized as the epitome of sexually transmitted diseases. Last summer the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that Lyme disease is much more common than previously thought, with over 300,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the United States. That makes Lyme disease almost twice as common as breast cancer and six times more common than HIV/AIDS.
“Our findings will change the way Lyme disease is viewed by doctors and patients,” said Marianne Middelveen, lead author of the study presented in Carmel. “It explains why the disease is more common than one would think if only ticks were involved in transmission.”