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Posted on 03-02-2017

What do ticks, sex and Lyme Disease have to do with one another?

Lyme Disease has long been associated with ticks that transmit a Spirochete bacteria, known as Borrelia burgdorferii. Over 300,000 people are diagnosed annually in the USA, with PA having the highest number of human cases. The CDC reports that over 9,000 cases occurred in 2015 in PA, with an increase in new cases to over 12,000 cases in 2016. 

A study in the Journal of Investigative Research by Marianne Middelveen found that 100% of women and 50% of men who tested positive for Borrelia had detectable spirochetes in their vaginal and seminal secretions. Additionally, spouses have also reported suspicions that they shared their infection, rather than both contracting it independently. Though the CDC still states that sexual transmission does not occur, more research is needed to determine whether this mode of infection naturally occurs and if so, how frequently.

As far as we know, most cases come from infected tick bites, but many people say they've never seen a tick on themselves or their pets. This is in part due to the fact that tick nymphs, which are super tiny, can also transmit the Lyme spirochete. They never get as large as adult ticks, so it's easy to miss the original bite.

New information about Lyme Disease is released regularly, including the emergence of a new species, Borrelia mayonii, in the northern Midwest. There is also ongoing research regarding the possibility of other insects transmitting the disease. 

Blood tests are used to detect infections. If you are concerned about symptoms in yourself or your animals, be sure to request blood tests. If they are negative, ask to be tested for Bartonella and other tick borne illnesses.

During this week alone, I've lost track of the number of ticks I've removed from animals. And lots of owners have been telling me they've found ticks on themselves recently.

My advice to animal owners is to use excellent tick control. Work with knowledgeable vets to determine how to safely protect yourself and family. This is an area where messing around with cheap products, online purchases and asking the cashier at the pet store is foolish; you will be putting your family, animals and yourself at risk.

Ticks love cool weather and are active throughout the winter months - our recent pattern of mild winter weather has increased tick and wildlife activity. So get to your vet for regular Lyme testing, and get the best preventive that will keep your family safe.

If a pet or farm animal tests positive, be sure to request screening for yourself. 
Visit the CDC website for tips on reducing human exposure. And if a tick attaches to you or an animal, be sure to ask for a course of antibiotics, rather than waiting months for testing.

By Dr. Cindy Maro

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