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Is Lyme Disease fatal a second time?


Last updated 4/14/2021 at 10:12am | View PDF

DEAR DR. ROACH: Someone I know, who is a nurse, mentioned to me that she had Lyme disease about 15 years ago. She said her doctor at the time told her that if she gets it again, she will die. Is this true? I would have thought some immunity would be gained once you have it. She is completely healed and said she has no health issues associated with it. -- D.S.

ANSWER: Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, and is spread by the deer tick. There are many manifestations of Lyme disease, including rash, many nonspecific symptoms, and late symptoms such as arthritis.

Death from Lyme disease is rare, and is usually a result of carditis, which is heart inflammation. This happens in about 1 percent of cases of Lyme disease. There were nine cases of fatal Lyme carditis reported between 1985 and 2018.

People who are treated early for Lyme disease, such as those get the classic bull’s-eye rash, do not get immunity to Lyme. However, people who have had Lyme long enough to develop arthritis do develop some resistance to future episodes. Unfortunately, we are still at least several years away from a Lyme vaccine.

I could find nothing to support a significant risk of death from people who get Lyme disease a second (or subsequent) time, so I think you can reassure your friend.

Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual questions, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to [email protected]

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