January 27, 2014- Five hundred years after syphilis was first recognized in Europe, an international team of scientists reported in the Journal of Investigative Medicine that Lyme disease, like its close relative syphilis, can be sexually transmitted. Experts confirmed the possibility of person-to-person transmission, a disturbing aspect of the disease that until now has been dismissed by some for lack of evidence.
In the study, Isolation and Detection of Borrelia Burdorferi from Human Vaginal and Seminal Secretions, by Middelveen, Bandoski, Burke, Sapi, Mayne and Stricker, it was reported all women tested positive for Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease, in vaginal secretions. Surprisingly, only about 50% of men’s semen samples tested positive. One couple with Lyme disease had identical strains of the Lyme spirochete in their genital secretions. Since Lyme disease can cause complex infections with multiple genetic variants of B. burgdorferi, the identification of identical strains was significant.
Evidence of Lyme disease was found during autopsy in the remains of the “Iceman” who lived over 5,000 years ago. Syphilis was not identified as a separate disease from leprosy before about 1500 A.D. Syphilis has been referred to as “The Great Pretender”, as its symptoms can look like many other diseases. Lyme disease, dubbed “The Great Imitator”, has earned its nick name by having been misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s, heart disease, depression and a host of other maladies, including, most recently in scientific publications, ALS.
The bacterial pathogens that cause Lyme disease and syphilis are highly invasive. Lyme, like syphilis, causes varying skin manifestations at the site of infection and elsewhere, producing either one or more rashes or sores that can be very obvious or so faint that they are not noticed. The two diseases can produce fevers, swollen lymph glands, sore throats, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and fatigue.
Without appropriate treatment, both infections can progress. Like Lyme, late stages of syphilis can appear years after initial infection and can produce clinical manifestations that include dermatological and neurological involvement and a chronically infected state. Symptoms of both diseases can disappear with or without treatment and reappear months to years later.
Infection with either organism can cause difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis, memory loss, optic neuritis, numbness, mental illness, blindness, and dementia. Both diseases can damage internal organs, including the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints. This damage can result in death.
Cases of both congenital syphilis and congenital Lyme have been reported to affect newborns, causing low birth weights, premature deliveries and stillbirths.
As with Lyme, studies on chronic syphilitic infection indicate that bacteria can evade the host’simmune system by one or more mechanisms. Syphilis, like Lyme, can cause chronic long-term complications. The longer one is infected, the more antibiotics are necessary to address the infections and prevent further damage.
Although antibiotics are used, treatment will not repair damage already done and does not always result in a cure. Unfortunately, millions have been spent over the years trying, no one has been able to develop an effective vaccine for either Lyme or syphilis.
The CDC reports the best way to avoid contracting any sexually transmitted disease is to abstain from sexual contact or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected. To prevent Lyme disease the same applies, however, you’ll also need to use bug repellents, avoid areas with high tick infestations and regularly do a tick check.
For more information please go to www.MarylandLyme.org
Lucy Barnes, Director
CDC MMWR Stats
2009 reported deaths from Lyme and related tick borne diseases- 21
2009 reported deaths from syphilis- 34
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UPDATE- January 25, 2013
Scientists Find Evidence For Sexual Transmission- Read about it here.
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Yes or No?
When asked if Lyme disease could be sexually transmitted, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) infectious disease representative stated "no". When asked why it could not be sexually transmitted, the representative said, "because we have never had a documented case".
Of course, the CDC and DHMH have not performed studies on human sexual transmission, but that fact was never mentioned and in turn their statement, a resounding "NO", is misleading and potentially dangerous.
Concerns: Since the organism that causes Lyme disease is basically a "cousin" to the one that causes syphilis (spirochetal bacteria) and research findings and clinical evidence are not substantiating the DHMH's 'off-the-cuff' conclusions, it would be wise to take the same precautions you would normally take to protect yourself and your partner against any other sexually transmitted disease. Until the science proves conclusively the Lyme bacteria can not be sexually transmitted, better safe than sorry!
UPDATE- Lyme disease studies have since indicated Lyme can be sexually transmitted.
RECOVERY OF LYME SPIROCHETES BY PCR IN SEMEN SAMPLES OF PREVIOUSLY DIAGNOSED LYME DISEASE PATIENTS
Dr. Gregory Bach, Do.O., P.C. 2415 North Broad Street, Colmar, PA 18915
Lyme disease, being a spirochete with pathology similar to syphilis, is often found difficult to treat due to the spirochete invading sanctuary sites and displaying pleomorphic characteristics such as a cyst (L-form). Because a significant portion of sexually active couples present to my office with Lyme disease, with only one partner having a history of tick exposure, the question of possible secondary (sexual)vector of transmission for the spirochete warrents inquiriy.
Additionally, sexually active couples seem to have a marked propensity for antibiotic failure raising the question of sexually active couples re-infecting themselves through intimate contact.
Lyme spirochetes/DNA have been recovered from stored animal semen. Recovery of spirochete DNA from nursing mother's breast milk and unbilical cord blood by PCR (confirmed by culture/microscopy), have been found in samples provided to my office.
Suprisingly, initial laboratory testing of semen samples provided by male Lyme patients (positive by western blot/PCR in blood) and the male sexual partner of a Lyme infected female patient were positive approximately 40% of the time. PCR recovery of Lyme DNA nucleotide sequences with microscopic confirmation of semen samples yielded positive results in 14/32 Lyme patients (13 male semen samples and 1 vaginal pap).
ALL positive semen/vaginal samples in patients with known sexual partners resulted in positive Lyme titers/PCR in their sexual partners. 3/4 positive semen patients had no or unknown sexual partners to be tested. These preliminary findings warrent futher study. Current a statistical design study to evaluate the possibility of sexual transition of the spirochete is being undertaken.
Our laboratory studies confirm the existence of Lyme spirochetes in semen/vaginal secretions. Whether or not further clinical studies with a larger statistical group will support the hypothesis of sexual transmission remains to be seen. A retrospective clinical study is also underway.
We are reviewing the medical records, collecting semen samples of patients who were previously diagnosed with current and previously treated Lyme disease are bing asked to provide semen,pap and blood samples for extensive laboratory testing.
With the initially impressive data, we feel the subsequent statistical sudy on the sexual transmission of the Lyme spirochete will illuminate a much broader sectrum of public health concerns associated with the disease than the originally accepted tick borne vector.