Fact and fiction have only one thing in common- they start with the same letter. While Lyme disease needs to be taken seriously, it should be understood for what it is (fact) and what it isn’t (fiction), and it's important to know how to avoid the disease.
Here’s information straight from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) confirming these facts:
- Over 300,000 people per year are diagnosed and subsequently treated for Lyme disease in the US, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). And that estimate is considered low due to the challenges of positively identifying Lyme disease.
- If you are pregnant and suspect you have contracted Lyme disease, contact your physician immediately. Untreated Lyme disease during pregnancy may lead to infection of the placenta and possible stillbirth.
- Thankfully, no serious effects on the fetus have been found in cases where the mother receives appropriate antibiotic treatment for her Lyme disease. In general, treatment for pregnant women with Lyme disease is similar to that of non-pregnant adults, although certain antibiotics, such as doxycycline, are not used because they can affect fetal development.
TTC and Lyme Disease
To get to the facts, two reliable sources for information stepped up - board certified Reproductive Endocrinologists from RMACT, Cynthia Murdock, MD and Shaun Williams, MD. They dispel what turn out to be unsubstantiated fears and myths swirling around Lyme disease, pre-pregnancy and pregnancy, and offer scientific advice on how to protect yourself from the ticks that carry the disease.
Preventing Lyme Disease
Dr. Shaun Williams shares the prevailing wisdom regarding how to avoid Lyme disease: "Preventing Lyme disease for women who are trying to conceive or who are already pregnant is recommended. The best prevention of Lyme disease is knowledge and avoidance of areas where ticks are prevalent. Blacklegged ticks (the ticks that cause Lyme disease) live in moist and humid environments, particularly in and near wooded or grassy areas. Unfortunately, it's common to get a tick on you during outdoor activities around your home or when walking through leaves and bushes. To avoid ticks, walk in the center of trails and avoid walking through tall bushes or other vegetation.
The use of insect repellent containing DEET is also recommended. DEET has been shown to be safe in pregnant women and is considered very safe for women trying to conceive. It is the best protection for Lyme disease, Zika virus exposure, and other insect-borne illnesses. We recommend the use of DEET during outdoor activities during the summer months when ticks and mosquitoes are active. If you are outdoors, tick checks are also an important part of prevention. Spending a few moments after undressing to check carefully for ticks (the tick nymphs are as small as the point of a pencil) can help prevent exposure and may also allow prevention of disease if early exposure has been identified and treated.
Mosquito-borne illnesses are also common in the summer months. Fortunately, Zika virus, which can cause major birth defects involving the brain, is not prevalent in the tri-state area. Other mosquito transmitted illnesses are, however, such as Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus and West Nile virus, and can be severe for all individuals, not just pregnant women. The use of DEET during the summer months can prevent these illnesses as well.
Again, DEET is safe, has been studied extensively in pregnant women, and has never been shown to cause cancer or other long-term illnesses in animals or humans. Whether on vacation or just outdoors here in the Northeast, using DEET whenever at risk is the best prevention of any tick or mosquito-borne problems."
Reassuring Information About Lyme Disease & Pregnancy
Dr. Williams adds this comforting information on Lyme disease and pregnancy: "The presentation and clinical severity of Lyme disease are not affected by pregnancy. The bacteria does not cross the placenta, and the general opinion is that Lyme disease does not lead to any adverse outcomes of a pregnancy. Treating Lyme disease during pregnancy is also safe, if necessary, although treatment regimens may need to be adjusted to avoid unsafe antibiotics.
Fertility Treatments Can Proceed as Planned
Dr. Cynthia Murdock shares her expertise on the specifics about fertility treatment cycles, including IUI and IVF, and Lyme disease: "As there is no evidence or research that Lyme disease or a bite from a tick adversely affects or transfers the disease to either sperm or eggs, it therefore does not prevent a person seeking to conceive from undergoing fertility treatment cycles, such as IUI or IVF. Further, there is no research that has been done to show that Lyme disease affects or transfers the disease to embryos. The one qualification regarding Lyme disease concerns a woman with an active case of Lyme during an IVF cycle, then embryos would be cryopreserved (frozen) rather than transferred back to the uterus. The severity of the Lyme disease in any individual and the course of treatment for that person could alter or delay certain fertility treatment cycles."
Avoiding Lyme Disease
Being proactive means taking proper precaution in areas where Lyme disease is most easily contracted. Wear light colored clothing (so ticks are more visible), tuck your pants into your socks, check carefully after spending time outside and use a DEET-based insect repellent. Those are the most proven and effective ways to avoid this disease and get on with building your family.