The official position of the Centers for Disease Control is that Lyme is passed through the bite of a blacklegged tick. Research and anecdotal clinical evidence from doctors and patients indicate other transmission methods including multiple insect vectors, mother-to-child, sexual transmission and via organ transplant.
The subject of transmission is hotly debated. In light of evidence that various methods of transmission may exist, Lyme Nation encourages readers to become informed, and to take adequate precautions.
- Transmission from other insects – one European study found Borrelia in 13 species of mites, 15 species of flies and 3 species of fleas. Other European research found it in mosquitoes. Although more research is needed to prove transmission by these insect vectors, physicians report seeing patients who have been infected by bites from insects other than ticks. One published case is of a man bitten by a large fly, who developed Lyme disease 13 weeks later.
- Mother to child transmission – as early as 1985, research confirmed that Borrelia was passed from a mother to her infant, who died shortly after birth. The spirochete was found in the infant’s spleen, kidneys and bone marrow. Numerous studies since then have confirmed that Lyme can infect the placenta, and be passed from mother to child in utero.
- Sexual Transmission – research conducted in 2014 by an international team of scientists found Borrelia in vaginal secretions and semen, suggesting the possibility for Lyme to be sexually transmitted between humans. This research has been criticised as having too small a sample size. The researchers are currently finding additional subjects to fill out the study.
- Organ transplant – there are rare cases reported where people contract Lyme after receiving a donor organ.
- Blood transfusion – Although the CDC states that no reported cases of Lyme have been linked to blood transfusions, they recommend that people with Lyme should not donate blood, because scientists have found that Borrelia can live in blood that is stored for donation. The co-infection Babesia is known to be in the blood supply, and people have contracted Babesia through receiving blood transfusions.
Tick bites can transmit more than one type of pathogen, including protozoa, parasites, viruses and bacteria. Here are some common co-infections that people can contract from a tick bite.
Anaplasmosis – caused by the bacterium Anaplasma phagocytophilum, symptoms include fever, chills, headache and muscle aches.
Babesia – caused by the parasite Babesia microti which destroys red blood cells, symptoms include air hunger, cherry angioma, fever, chills, sweats, headache, body aches, loss of appetite, nausea, fatigue, anemia and dark urine.
Bartonella – there are several forms of Bartonella, caused by different bacteria,
- Bartonella henselae causes “Cat scratch fever,” with symptoms of fever, enlarged sore lymph nodes, a pustule at the tick bite site, pain in legs and soles of feet, eye infections, severe muscle pain and encephalitis.
- “Trench fever,” is caused by Bartonella Quintana, with symptoms of fever, headache, rash, pain in shins, neck and back.
- Carrión’s disease is caused by Bartonella bacilliformis and presents in two phases. The first phase symptoms include fever, headache, abdominal pain, muscle aches and anemia. In the second phase, red growths pop out on the skin and may bleed. People with Bartonella can also experience skin lesions and endocarditis.
Borrelia Miyamoti – a bacterium with symptoms of headache, muscle aches and fever.
Colorado Tick Fever – a virus that causes symptoms of fever, chills, headache, body aches, and feeling tired.
Erlichiosis – fever, headache, fatigue and muscle aches characterize infection from several different bactiria, Ehrlichia chaffeensis, Ehrlichia ewingii, and Ehrlichia muris-like
Heartland Virus – a newly discovered virus with only 8 cases to date, symptoms include fever, extreme fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, diarrhea, loss of appetite and nausea.
Powassan virus – a virus that causes fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, loss of coordination, speech difficulties, encephalitis and seizures.
Q Fever – caused by the bacterium Coxiella burnetii, symptoms include high fevers (up to 104-105°F), severe headache, muscle aches, chills and/or sweats, non-productive cough, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, chest pain, pneumonia, granulomatous hepatitis myocarditis and central nervous system complications. Pregnant women who are infected may be at risk for pre-term delivery or miscarriage.
Microfilarial Nematodes – Nematodes are parasitic worms which can be transmitted via tick bite. These parasites can migrate to different locations throughout the body, causing fevers, inflamed lymph nodes, dermatitis and eye lesions.
Rickettsiosis/Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever – is caused by the bacterium Rickettsia Rickettsi, with symptoms of Fever, headache, abdominal pain, rash progressing into papular or petechial rash (generally on arms or legs).
STARI (Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness) – the name given to a bulls-eye rash that follows the bite of a Lone Star tick. Symptoms may include Patients may also experience fatigue, headache, fever, and muscle pains.
Tick Borne Encephelitis – caused by several different strains of the tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV), with symptoms including fever, malaise, anorexia, muscle aches, headache, nausea, vomiting, meningitis encephalitis, meningoencephalitis and paralysis.
Tick Paralysis – a rare disease that is believed to be caused by a toxin in tick saliva. Symptoms include acute paralysis that can be mistaken for Guillain-Barré syndrome or botulism. Removing the tick usually results in the paralysis clearing up within 24 hours.
Tick Relapsing Fever – caused by different species of the Borrelia bacterium, symptoms include fever, muscle pain, joint pain, headache, nausea, vomiting, anorexia, dry cough, light sensitivity, rash, neck pain, eye pain, confusion, and dizziness.
Tularemia – caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis, with symptoms including skin ulcers, mouth ulcers, swollen lymph glands, very high fever (up to 104), sore throat, eye infections, chest pain, difficulty breathing, cough.
Because people with Lyme often have compromised immune function, they may experience co-infection with a range of other viruses and bacteria that are transmitted from sources other than tick bites. These infections complicate treatment of Lyme, as they wax and wane within the body. Some common co-infections include:
Chalymdia pneumonae – a bacterium that causes chest infections ranging from low grade to severe symptoms of pneumonia or bronchitis, low grade fever, cough, sinusitis, pharyngitis and laryngitis.
Coxsackie Virus – a virus that causes symptoms of fever, loss of appetite, general malaise and sore throat. Painful sores usually develop in the mouth (herpangina) one or two days after the fever starts. They begin as small red spots that blister and that often become ulcers. A skin rash develops over 1 to 2 days. The rash has flat or raised red spots, sometimes with blisters. The rash is usually on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet; it may also appear on the knees, elbows, buttocks or genital area.
Epstein-Barr (HHV-4 virus) – is a virus that most people become infected with, but those with compromised immune systems can have long-term problems with the virus re-activating. Symptoms include fatigue, inflamed lymph nodes, sore throat, fever, an enlarged spleen, a swollen liver and a rash.
Human Herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6 virus) – another virus that most humans have been infected with, which can reactivate in immune compromised individuals. Reactivation can cause a wide range of symptoms including include extreme fatigue, muscle weakness, diarrhea, colitis, encephalitis and more.
Mycoplasma pneumonae – a bacterium that causes atypical pneumonia, with symptoms of fever, fatigue, a cough that can last for months, sore throat and headache.
Yersinia enterocolitica – a bacterium that causes abdominal pain, diarrhea and fever.