NYMC Faculty Publications


Studies That Report Unexpected Positive Blood Cultures for Lyme Borrelia - Are They Valid?

Document Type


Publication Date

November 2017




Positive blood cultures for Lyme borrelia have been well documented in untreated patients with early Lyme disease. In this report we review the validity of three studies that reported the recovery of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato from the blood of a high proportion of patients for whom no evidence was presented, and no claim was made, that the patients had untreated early Lyme disease. In two of the studies the patients had been treated extensively with antibiotics for Lyme disease before the cultures were obtained. Critical evaluation of the three reports suggests that they are invalid. Indeed, two subsequently published studies could not reproduce the results of one of the reports. In a published analysis of another of the reports, investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that the cultures were likely to have been contaminated. When the biologic plausibility of recovering borrelia from blood is extremely low, the level of scientific rigor required of a study that claims a positive result should be particularly high.