IS LYME DISEASE SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED?
Recently there was an article written on one of the “natural medicine” websites that claimed that Lyme disease is sexually transmitted, and should be considered an STD. As if that wasn’t enough to generate hysteria, the title of the article is “Is Lyme the next AIDS?” It is hard to imagine a more over-the-top headline.
The article was written by a naturopathic doctor (not an M.D.). The article displays a significant lack of knowledge of basic science and the scientific process.
There is currently no *evidence* of any kind that Lyme is an STD, nor any coherent theory that would support that. There are hypotheses that have been made by people without relevant credentials, training, or experience in epidemiology, but there is no data that support their claims.
The CDC examined this claim in detail, and found it to be baseless. You can read their analysis here:
The CDC’s comments on the Lyme/STD issue are accurate and to the point. The article in the natural health site has the usual pseudoscience agglomeration of mistaken assumptions, illogical connections, inaccurate data, and exaggerated claims based on a handful of anecdotes, often third-hand.
Unfortunately, when there is a reasonable response to wild claims, often the result is that the source of the reasonable comments is attacked and vilified, usually with no evidence or false charges and claims of hidden agendas.
Over many decades, the CDC has shown itself to be above politics. They are a highly reputable scientific source. It never ceases to amaze me that people will reject the CDC because it is government funded, and listen to obvious con artists like Mercola instead.
When it comes to health topics, the con artists inject all kinds of emotional content in order to confuse people, and spread baseless rumors about these reputable sources—otherwise, they couldn’t survive, since the competent sources would discredit them completely. By using the classic FUD approach (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt), they get people to spend lots of money on their worthless (and sometimes harmful) products, books, and treatments.
For anyone who understands the concept of evidence-based science and medicine, the CDC has proven itself repeatedly, as has NIH, NIST, and the other pure science agencies that are government funded. I’ve dealt with the CDC directly on several occasions, and they are clearly a group of people with high integrity and competence. Every discussion was precise, accurate, and when they didn’t know, they said “We don’t know.”
(This, by the way, is the real mark of a scientist—admitting when they don’t know, and admitting that there is a *lot* they don’t know. The medical con artists claim to have an answer for everything, and their articles virtually never reflect any doubt about the problem or what to do about it. And *amazingly* often, they have just the treatment, the pill, the product, or the book that will “cure what ails you”.)
Part of the reason for this is that you can’t “fake” science. If a science organization allowed politics or any other non-scientific influence to influence their results, their work would grind to a halt. Science is a process like building a building—if the foundation isn’t rock solid, the whole thing can fall over. Each step in the process of science depends absolutely on the steps before being reliable. One of the reasons that the USSR stayed so far behind the US in so many ways was that the politicians tried to control the science. The result was bad science that simply couldn’t keep up with the rest of the world.
Science also demands repeatability: if the CDC came up with results that other researchers could not duplicate, CDC’s credibility would suffer enormously. Not long ago, a famous, highly respected scientist in Korea faked some results—and within months, despite his world-wide reputation and ground-breaking previous research, he was exposed and discredited, indicted and later convicted.
Which raises another issue: science is international. No national agenda can drive science, because science is the same edifice the world over. If a government agency tried to pawn off fake science, the international scientific community would have a field day. While some countries might go along with the U.S. agenda in some areas, there are plenty of other highly developed countries that would *love* to take a swipe at US science.
Not all government sponsored agencies have proven to be so competent or ethical—the FDA comes to mind here, as does the EPA. But these are regulatory agencies, not primarily science agencies (unfortunately), and they have not infrequently succumbed to political pressure.
I was originally asked to evaluate this issue because a correspondent wanted a reputable source *other* than CDC. But if someone won’t listen to the CDC, they probably won’t listen to any other reputable source either. Why someone would believe organizations with a clear profit motive, or people with no relevant qualifications over a proven reputable source is beyond me. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Or think.
Have further questions? Submit them to email@example.com and we’ll do the best we can to give you reliable, evidence-based answers, and we’ll add them below.
Q. So are you saying that Lyme is only tick transmitted? No saliva, etc.?
A. *No one* could ever say that something of this sort is impossible. However, there have been *no identified cases* of transmission from human to human, not by sexual contact, not by saliva, not even by blood transfusion. So for all practical purposes, it can't happen.
The CDC does recommend that people with Lyme should *not* donate blood, but this is precautionary, not evidence-based; still, it is prudent that Lyme-infected people not give blood. Of course, it is *possible* that some researcher might find cases of human-to-human transmission tomorrow--but this seems extremely unlikely; there is no reason to suspect that this will happen. So the answer is that there is *no* evidence of human to human transmission. Lyme is *not* an STD/STI. And to compare it to AIDS is *clearly* fear-mongering.
Part of the way that the con artists hook people in is that people often want definite answers when there really are none. So if I say, "Gee, we really don't know, but I haven't seen any" and someone else says "Michael is hiding the truth from you, I know the truth, here are all these anecdotes to prove it", a lot of people will be taken in.
One thing that often flags a con artist is broad-brush attacks on generally credible scientific organizations. Not that such organizations have never been corrupted, but such corruption, as it affects basic science, gets uncovered fairly quickly, and if it happened more than extremely rarely, the organization would become a pariah in the scientific community.