10 Myths About Lyme Disease

Learn the Truth About Lyme Disease and Its Treatment

So much controversy surrounds the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme Disease, especially Chronic Lyme or Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS), that myths have developed about the ticks that transmit it, the chance of contracting it, the methods for diagnosing it, and the possibilities for treating it successfully.

Here are some of those myths, their corrections, and resources to support the facts.

Myth: All Ticks Carry Lyme Disease

tick on finger

Facts: The ticks that carry Lyme Disease are called deer ticks or black-legged ticks. Only between 25% and 50% of those ticks carry the bacteria, called Borrelia burgdorferi, that causes Lyme Disease.

Further, there are many ticks located all over the world that do not carry Lyme disease, including Lone star ticks (Amblyomma americanum), the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), the Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), and the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus). That does not mean these ticks can't carry or transmit diseases (see # 9 below). But they don't carry Lyme Disease.

Sources: The CDC and Analytical Services, Inc. (a tick testing service)

Myth: If You Are Bitten By an Infected Deer Tick You Will Get Lyme Disease

Facts: A tick bite doesn't happen in just seconds like a mosquito bite or a bee sting. A tick latches onto a person or an animal for a period of time as it sucks blood from the host. If the tick is infected, it transmits the bacteria to the host for as long as it is attached.

Experts say that the tick must remain attached to a person's body for 24 hours or more in order for that person to develop Lyme Disease. (This is why it is recommended you check yourself, your family members and pets once a day during tick season.) A tick bite that lasts for less time will probably not transmit the disease.

According to LymeDisease.org, "About 25 to 30 percent of nymph-stage deer ticks in the Northeast are naturally infected with the Lyme disease bacterium. Nearly all of these infected ticks will cause Lyme disease if they are not removed. Ticks in this stage are about the size of a poppy seed, making them very difficult to find. People who live in Lyme disease areas should take the risk of tick bites seriously and do all they can to prevent them, keeping in mind the 25 percent chance of infection if they miss a tick, instead of the 3 percent chance if they find one."

Myth: The Best Ways to Remove Ticks Are to Burn or Suffocate Them

Fact: Experts agree that burning a tick with a match, or trying to suffocate it with nail polish, gasoline or petroleum jelly, or other such methods will not be as useful as gently pulling the tick away from the skin. When you do so, be sure the tick's mouth parts come along with it.

Learn more about removing a tick from Medscape or the CDC's Tick Removal information.

Myth: The Only Way to Diagnose Lyme Disease Is by the Distinctive Bullseye Rash

Facts: Not everyone who has been bitten by an infected tick develops that very recognizable rash, yet they may have contracted the disease, and will still suffer the other symptoms of Lyme Disease.

There are three tests that can be given to diagnose Lyme Disease. The tests aren't considered to be very accurate, but their existence does prove that the bullseye rash is not the only evidence of the disease.

Myth: Testing a Tick Will Predict Whether You Will Get Lyme Disease

Fact: Even if a tick is tested and found to be harboring the Lyme Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, it may not have necessarily transmitted the bacteria to anyone it has bitten. Therefore, testing a tick will not be an accurate indication of whether someone it has bitten has acquired Lyme Disease.

Because testing the tick is not a good indicator of Lyme Disease transmission, most hospital or state-run medical labs will not test ticks for Lyme bacteria. However, there are dozens of private labs that will test ticks for bacteria with prices ranging from $75 to hundreds of dollars.

Myth: There Is a Vaccine That Prevents Lyme Disease

Fact: There used to be a vaccine, but the manufacturer stopped manufacturing it in 2002 because there was not enough demand for it.

Source: Here is more information about the history of the Lyme vaccine as developed by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Myth: If You Have Been Infected with Lyme Disease, You Can't Be Infected Again

Facts: There is no limit to the number of times you may acquire Lyme Disease.

Viruses stimulate the body's immune system to build antibodies so that body won't get sick from the same virus again. Bacteria, however, do not have the same impact on the immune system. Lyme Disease is bacterial. As a result, It is possible to develop Lyme Disease after being bitten by a Lyme bacteria-carrying tick, recover from Lyme, and then get bitten, and sick, all over again.

Myth: You Have to Live Near Connecticut to Develop Lyme Disease

Facts: It's true that Lyme Disease was named for Lyme, Connecticut. But there are Lyme-carrying ticks, also called deer ticks or black-legged ticks, in other parts of the United States beyond Connecticut and the northeast.

Further, someone may be bitten by a bacteria carrying tick, then travel to a region not known to have incidences of Lyme Disease. Doctors may avoid a Lyme diagnosis because they live and practice in an area that is not known historically as an area where Lyme-carrying ticks thrive.

Myth: Lyme Disease Cannot Be Cured

Facts: Early stage Lyme Disease, caught within the first one or two months after the tick bite that caused it, is very treatable with a course of antibiotics. When treated early, the bacteria will be killed and the patient will be cured.

Later-stage diagnoses of Lyme Disease, known officially by the CDC as Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS), also known by some Lyme experts (controversial) as Chronic Lyme, is much harder to diagnose, and therefore, to cure if it can be cured at all. The ability to bring the person who has developed it back to good health depends on many aspects of the disease's course, including the length of time since the tick bite took place, the symptoms that have developed along the way, whether or not the patient can find a doctor willing to treat it, and more.

Sources: The American Lyme Disease Foundation, and the CDC's information about Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS).

Myth: Lyme Disease Can Be Transmitted From Person to Person

Facts: According to the CDC, Lyme Disease cannot be transmitted sexually, or by kissing, or drinking out of the same glass as someone who has Lyme Disease. There are no reported instances of transmission from person to person or animal to person. It is transmitted only by ticks that carry the Lyme Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria.

It has been determined that Lyme bacteria will survive in blood being stored for transfusion, although no cases of someone acquiring the infection after receiving transfused blood have been reported.