Lyme Disease Transmission

The purpose of this page is to provide a short overview of scientific research available that discusses transmission of Lyme disease.


Modes other than Ticks

Scientific studies support potential alternate modes of transmission; however these potential transmission sources have not been fully researched. A small selection of available research is offered below.

Blood-sucking insects, such as mosquitoes, flies, fleas and mites

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Transplacental transmission

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Contact with urine and other bodily fluids from infected animals

The potential for humans to contract Lyme disease via an infected mammal is an area that has yet to be fully researched, however remains of concern to the LDAA and Lyme patients.

  • There is ample evidence of Borrelia in mammals reported in Australian and overseas research:
  • Transmission of Borrelia from animals to humans could theoretically occur via exposure to their urine, blood, semen, colostrums or synovial fluid, as detailed below.
    • The LDAA Australian patient report (2012), page 12, Table 2 and page 14, Table 4 included respondents nominating other suspected modes of transmission via animals including, urine, saliva and milk.
    • Live Borrelia burgdorferi was isolated in the blood and urine of white-footed mice. The authors reported that "Spirochetes remained viable for 18-24 hours in urine." Bosler EM & Schulze TL. 1986, The prevalence and significance of Borrelia burgdorferi in the urine of feral reservoir hostsZentralbl Bakteriol Mikroboil Hyg A., Dec; 263(1-2): 40-44.
    • Borrelia burgdorferi was isolated in the blood of a dog three and four weeks post infection. Cerri D, Farina R, Andreani E, Nuvoloni R, Pedrini A & Cardini G. 1994, Experimental infection of dogs with Borrelia burgdorferi, Res Vet Sci, 57(2): 256-258.
    • Horse and cow blood, cow colostrums, cow urine and cow synovial fluids found to be Borrelia burgdorferi culture positive. Burgess EC. 1998, Borrelia burgdorferi infection in Wisconsin horses and cows, Ann N Y Acad Sci, 539:235-243.
  • The West Australian Lyme Association's submission in response to the DoH Scoping Study on Lyme Disease explores the potential role of livestock and their reproductive products in transporting (and possibly transmitting) Lyme disease, including:
    • Limited screening of imported livestock through quarantine process (Pages 5-6).
    • Screening process in interstate transport of livestock is not always adequate (Page 6).
    • Potential for Borrelia to survive in imported frozen semen and ova (P 9-10). Borrelia burgdorferi spirochetes were found to have a mean viability of 90%+ after being frozen at minus-196 Celsius for 12 weeks. ‘Viability of Borrelia burgdorferi in Stored Semen’, Kumi-Diaka, J. and Harris, O, (1995) British Veterinary Journal, Mar/Apr 1995. v. 151 (2)
    • Lack of facilities in Australia to test livestock suspected of infection with Lyme disease (Page 11).
  • The submission can be found here.
  • An extensive collection of research regarding the role of mammals and birds in the transmission cycle of Lyme disease has been compiled on the website of Australian researcher (and Lyme patient), Karen Smith.

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Transmission via blood, tissue and organ donations
  • The LDAA has repeatedly raised concerns about the lack of screening of Australian blood supplies for Borrelia and known co-infections.
  • At this time, public safety relies on voluntary 'opting out' of blood and organ donation programs by those who are aware they are infected with Lyme disease and co-infections. This is of major concern, given the number of people in the Australian population likely to be undiagnosed with these infections.
  • The LDAA again raised the concerns in the formal response to the DoH Scoping Study (pages 39-40) in relation to public risk through blood transfusions.
  • The LDAA's Patient-Focused Action Plan, appended to the Scoping Study Response, called for:
    • Screening of blood for Borrelia, Babesia, and other known co-infections.
    • Notification to organ donors to withdraw from program after suspected tick bites.
  • Research supporting concerns about potential transmission through blood include:

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Sexual transmission
  • There is a growing body of anecdotal evidence among the Australian Lyme community indicating that Lyme disease may be sexually transmitted. This anecdotal evidence is supported, at this stage, by limited scientific research; however Lyme patients are urged to practice safe sex as a precaution.
  • A 2001 study found that sexual partners of Lyme patients were likely to carry Borrelia themselves. Bach G. 2001 April, ‘Recovery of Lyme spirochetes by PCR in semen samples of previously diagnosed Lyme disease patients’, International Scientific Conference on Lyme disease.
  • Newly published research provides evidence that Borrelia burgdorferi may be transmissible through both vaginal secretions and seminal fluid, again suggesting sexual transmission.
    Middelveen, MJ, Bandoski, C, Burke J, Sapi E, Mayne PJ, Stricker RB, 2104, ‘Isolation and Detection of Borrelia burgdorferi from Human Vaginal and Seminal Secretions’, Presented at the Western Regional Meeting of the American Federation for Medical Research, Carmel, CA, January 25, 2014.
  • In an interview regarding this research, Australia’s Dr Peter Mayne said, “...the presence of the Lyme spirochete in genital secretions and identical strains in married couples strongly suggests that sexual transmission of the disease occurs.”
  • The LDAA contends further research is required to confirm the growing body of anecdotal evidence and preliminary research which suggests these alternate modes of transmission are possible. LDAA, Patient submission to the Australian Government Department of Health’s ‘Scoping Study to develop a research project(s) to investigate the presence or absence of Lyme disease in Australia’ (pages 11, 43, 44 and 47).

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