Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on April 10, 2021. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection most commonly associated with tick bites. It’s a common disease, particularly in the grassy, wooded areas of northeastern and upper Midwestern United States. Having Lyme disease can be concerning for a lot of reasons, but many people with Lyme disease wonder if they can potentially spread it to their loved ones. So, is Lyme disease contagious, and should you get a Lyme disease test? Keep reading to find out.
Lyme disease is caused by four different species of bacteria. Borrelia burgdorferi is the most common bacteria that causes Lyme disease in the United States.
Lyme disease is transmitted to humans primarily through tick bites. The bacteria has an incubation period of three to 30 days, resulting in a variety of symptoms that usually occur in stages that can overlap.
The most common early symptom of Lyme disease is a rash. Medically known as erythema migrans, this rash expands out from the tick bite area and can get as big as 12 inches in diameter. The rash appears red with a center that often clears up, resulting in a characteristic bull’s-eye pattern. This rash is often accompanied by flu-like symptoms, including fever, headaches, muscle aches, and fatigue.
Left untreated, this tick-borne disease can lead to some severe symptoms. The Lyme infection can spread to the nerves, resulting in inflammation in the brain and spinal cord, damage to the nerves, impaired movement, and weakness in the limbs. It can affect the heart, resulting in heart palpitations and an irregular heartbeat.
As mentioned, Lyme disease is primarily spread by ticks, specifically the blacklegged tick (also known as a deer tick). Deer ticks have been found in every state in the U.S. aside from Hawaii, but Lyme disease cases are mostly reported from the northeast and Midwest, along with some cases in states along the Pacific.
These ticks prefer woody, grassy areas with plenty of brush and foliage, where they wait to attach to any human or animal who passes through. Ticks can attach to any part of the body, but they are usually found in hard-to-spot areas, like the groin, armpits, or scalp.
Ticks themselves can be difficult to spot. Immature ticks, known as nymphs, are responsible for most Lyme disease infections in people. Nymphs are tiny, often no bigger than a poppy seed or the head of a pin. Adult ticks can still spread the bacteria, but they tend to be larger and thus easier to spot and remove before they’ve had a chance to attach.
Generally, the longer the infected tick is attached, the higher the chance of transmitting the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. A tick typically has to be attached for 36 to 48 hours to effectively transmit the Lyme bacteria.
Simply put, no. There is no evidence to suggest that Lyme disease can be transmitted from another person. You can’t get Lyme disease by touching, kissing, hugging, or having sex with someone who has it. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Lyme disease can be spread through food, water, or the air, meaning that you can’t get Lyme disease from someone coughing or sneezing.
Some evidence does show that untreated Lyme disease during pregnancy can lead to the bacteria infecting the placenta. However, spreading the disease to a fetus is extremely rare, and with a round of antibiotics, there is no risk of adverse birth.
Dogs and cats can get Lyme disease, but there’s no evidence that they can transmit it to humans via contact. However, they can potentially bring ticks, and even a tick habitat, into your yard or home.
If you are wondering how to avoid Lyme disease, prevention generally revolves around preventing tick bites. Wear long sleeves, pants, and covered shoes to cover exposed skin when you go out hiking in wooded or grassy areas. Check your clothing and your body after your adventure, and remove a tick as soon as you find it.
Even if you remove an attached tick as soon as possible, there is still a chance that you may have been infected before the tick removal. Wondering how to know if you have Lyme disease? The only way to know for sure is to get tested. Everlywell offers an easy at-home Lyme disease test that provides quick results. If you test positive, we can connect you with a care coordinator to determine next steps for a clinical diagnosis and treatment.