Can Lyme disease be spread through sex? - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Can Lyme disease be spread through sex?

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The prevailing scientific view is that Lyme disease is spread to human beings only through the bites of certain species of ticks.

But sometimes Lyme strikes multiple members of the same family -- the parents and the children. Some of those families believe that the bacterium that causes the debilitating symptoms of Lyme can also be spread through sexual contact. Others believe Lyme disease can be transmitted to children during a mother's pregnancy.

Lyme disease infections of humans are a big problem, and it's growing bigger. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bacteria carried in some species of small ticks is now spreading Lyme disease to an estimated 300,000 new patients a year in the United States.

For some of those patients, the effects of Lyme disease are devastating. Caitlin Carlson lives with her family in Gilberts, Ill.

"My body just gets so tired and ill, and you just feel sick," the teenager told us. "And you can't explain it. Some days you just want to lay up in bed and do nothing because I feel so sick. And I'm 18, and I should not feel like that."

Caitlin Carlson believes her case of Lyme disease was passed on to her at birth from her mother, who has also been diagnosed with Lyme disease. Her father has also been diagnosed with the illness.

The mom in the family, Cindy Carlson, wishes more doctors would discuss other possible routes of transmission.

"[Doctors] don't say that it's passed on sexually,” she said. “It should be in the textbooks, and doctors should know that this is a sexually transmitted disease. But they don't even tell you that ... so people are passing it to people they love, and they don't even know it."

The Carlsons are far from alone in their belief that Lyme is transmitted sexually. Amy Fitzgerald, of Chantilly, Va., has suffered from Lyme disease for about 20 years.

Fitzgerald told us, "My husband also is experiencing joint pain, fatigue, and he's having problems. I had him tested. I said, 'Go to the doctor, get tested.' His test came back negative. [But] I'm convinced he has Lyme disease. He has classic symptoms."

The Centers for Disease Control firmly believes there is "no evidence" that Lyme is transmitted from person-to-person, although the agency concedes stillbirths may happen if Lyme is acquired during pregnancy.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Gary Wormser, who heads that department at Westchester [N.Y.] Medical Center, agrees with the CDC.

"I think the public needs to be reassured," Dr. Wormser told us. "There's no evidence of sexual transmission of Lyme disease. It's a tick-transmitted infection."

Leesburg, Va., physician Dave Stewart used to buy the prevailing scientific views about Lyme disease, but Stewart cites a recent study of male and female bodily fluids showing the presence of the Lyme bacteria in patients that had tested positive for the disease.

Stewart now firmly believes Lyme can be transmitted sexually.

"It's no longer a question of whether it happens," Dr. Stewart told us. "The problem is now getting it accepted by the greater medical community who tend to be slow to adapt to change."

Dr. Stewart recommends only "safe sex" practices for many of the adult Lyme patients he treats -- at least until the Lyme symptoms disappear. For chronic patients, he recommends safe sex methods forever.

There are a couple of issues that both sides of the debate over Lyme disease transmission agree on: a vaccine is needed and more research should be done on Lyme disease.

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