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What Do I Need to Know About Lyme Transmission Time?


Patricia Smith, President of the Lyme Disease Association, Inc, explains what you need to know about the time it takes for Lyme to be transmitted from tick to host.

Interview Transcript (slightly modified for readability):

“Lyme transmission time is something that you have to be really concerned about. There is information out there that [transmission] takes 72 hours, 48 hours, or 24 hours. That information was based on the fact that, initially, it was felt that the Borrelia bacteria that causes Lyme disease was found in the midgut of the tick, and so, during the feeding process, [the bacteria] have to go from the midgut to the salivary glands in order to go into whatever [the tick] is biting. But, now, researchers have found that sometimes, this migration process has already started.
The tick [might have] had an incomplete feeding—perhaps it bit you and it didn’t like you!—and, so it falls off and decides it’s going to feed on somebody else. That tick will already have the bacteria in its salivary glands, and so it will be able to transmit [the bacteria] very quickly. There may [also] be other factors [place] the bacteria in the salivary glands at the start [of the feeding] and so that is very problematic.
The problem with transmission times is sometimes doctors will say, ‘Well, that tick was not on you long enough, and so you could not have Lyme disease’ and they do not even want to consider [Lyme] in a differential diagnosis. This is something that has to change. Doctors have to realize that this isn’t true. You have to look at your patient, [and] if they have a history of a tick bite, then you should be looking for different tick-borne diseases. Other kinds of co-infections, such as Powassan virus, are already known to be able to be transmitted in a very short period of time. They do not have the same issue as having to migrate.”
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