Epidemiology and clinical similarities of human spirochetal diseases

Rev Infect Dis. Sep-Oct 1989;11 Suppl 6:S1460-9. doi: 10.1093/clinids/11.supplement_6.s1460.


Lyme disease, first identified in 1975, is the most recently recognized of the seven human spirochetal diseases; the evolving clinical picture of Lyme disease indicates it shares many features with the other diseases. These similarities are striking in view of the diverse epidemiology of the seven diseases, which are caused by Treponema species (spread by human-to-human contact) or Leptospira or Borrelia species (zoonoses). These similarities include the following: (1) skin or mucous membrane as portal of entry; (2) spirochetemia early in the course of disease, with wide dissemination through tissue and body fluid; and (3) one or more subsequent stages of disease, often with intervening latent periods. Lyme disease shares with many spirochetal diseases a tropism for skin and neurologic and cardiovascular manifestations, whereas chronic arthritis is unique to Lyme disease. These similarities and dissimilarities offer opportunities to discover which properties unique to the pathogenic spirochetes are responsible for clinical manifestations and suggest that certain clinical features of patients with spirochetal diseases other than Lyme disease may someday be recognized in patients with Lyme disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Borrelia Infections / epidemiology
  • Borrelia Infections / etiology
  • Borrelia Infections / transmission*
  • Humans
  • Leptospirosis / epidemiology
  • Leptospirosis / etiology
  • Leptospirosis / transmission*
  • Spirochaetales Infections / epidemiology
  • Spirochaetales Infections / etiology
  • Spirochaetales Infections / transmission*
  • Treponemal Infections / epidemiology
  • Treponemal Infections / etiology
  • Treponemal Infections / transmission*
  • Zoonoses