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Canada: A systematic review on the impact of gestational Lyme disease in humans on the fetus and newborn

[CanLyme Note: We at CanLyme want to thank Sue Faber and Jennifer Kravis for their excellent persistent hard work in making this review happen and inviting us to participate in their journey. Also, the immensely important assistance and input from Ralph Hawkins, MD, and Vett Lloyd, PhD, brought the science to the forefront. Finally, much needed dialogue can begin on the true impact of gestational Lyme disease, past, present and future in Canada and globally.

There are many things that seem impossible only so long as one does not attempt them.”  André Gide 1869 – 1951 ]



Lyme disease (LD), caused by bacteria of the Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato species complex, is the most common vector-borne disease in North America and Europe. A systematic review (SR) was conducted to summarize the global literature on adverse birth outcomes associated with gestational LD in humans. The SR followed an a priori protocol of pretested screening, risk of bias, and data extraction forms. Data were summarized descriptively and random effects meta-analysis (MA) was used where appropriate. The SR identified 45 relevant studies, 29 describing 59 cases reported as gestational LD in the United States, Europe, and Asia (1969–2017). Adverse birth outcomes included spontaneous miscarriage or fetal death (n = 12), newborn death (n = 8), and newborns with an abnormal outcome (e.g. hyperbilirubinemia, respiratory distress and syndactyly) at birth (n = 16). Only one report provided a full case description (clinical manifestations in the mother, negative outcome for the child, and laboratory detection of Bburgdorferi in the child) that provides some evidence for vertical transmission of Bburgdorferi that has negative consequences for the fetus. The results of 17 epidemiological studies are included in this SR. Prevalence of adverse birth outcomes in an exposed population (defined by the authors as: gestational LD, history of LD, tick bites or residence in an endemic area) was compared to that in an unexposed population in eight studies and no difference was reported. A meta-analysis of nine studies showed significantly fewer adverse birth outcomes in women reported to have been treated for gestational LD (11%, 95%CI 7–16) compared to those who were not treated during pregnancy (50%, 95%CI 30–70) providing indirect evidence of an association between gestational LD and adverse birth outcomes. Other risk factors investigated; trimester of exposure, length of LD during pregnancy, acute vs. disseminated LD at diagnosis, and symptomatic LD vs. seropositive women with no LD symptoms during pregnancy were not significantly associated with adverse birth outcomes. This SR summarizes evidence from case studies that provide some limited evidence for transplacental transmission of Bburgdorferi. There was inconsistent evidence for adverse birth outcomes of gestational LD in the epidemiological research, and uncommon adverse outcomes for the fetus may occur as a consequence of gestational LD. The global evidence does not fully characterize the potential impact of gestational LD, and future research that addresses the knowledge gaps may change the findings in this SR. Given the current evidence; prompt diagnosis and treatment of LD during pregnancy is recommended.

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