I am following the progress of the article “Culture and identification of Borrelia spirochetes in human vaginal and seminal secretions” in the journal F1000Research, which is published by Faculty of 1000 and is not on my list. This open-access journal uses the post-publication peer review model, publishing papers upon submission, and then subsequently accepting peer reviews and comments.
I’m following the paper because of its controversial conclusion: “The culture of viable Borrelia spirochetes in genital secretions suggests that Lyme disease could be transmitted by intimate contact from person to person.” The paper finds that Lyme disease could be sexually transmitted.
The article was published on December 18, 2014. Its lead author is affiliated with the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society in Bethesda, Maryland, a group that seems to me to have a political agenda related to Lyme disease and its treatment.
The paper is indexed in Google Scholar.
The United States Centers for Disease Control has a Lyme Disease FAQ that asks and answers the question, “Can Lyme disease be transmitted sexually?” The first line of the extended answer says, “There is no credible scientific evidence that Lyme disease can be spread from person-to-person through sexual contact.”
The first open peer review report was added yesterday, January 5, 2015. It says:
Not ApprovedThere are a number of issues that mitigate against the authors’ conclusion that Lyme disease can be transmitted sexually.
As of this writing, there is one comment appended to the article; here are some selections from it:
Reader Comment 29 Dec 2014
Phillip Baker, American Lyme Disease Foundation, USA
“The concept of sexual transmission of borreliosis, which has been resurrected recently by Middelveen et al., was refuted years ago by the well-designed and controlled studies of Moody and Barthold, as well as Woodrum and Oliver, internationally known experts on Lyme disease. These investigators used well-characterized animal models of borreliosis in which infection is much more disseminated and profound than it ever is in humans”
“Sadly, preliminary oral reports of the observations of Middelveen et al. have already generated an inordinate amount of fear and anxiety within the lay community due to sensationalized reports of their unconfirmed findings by an uncritical – and often naïve – press. This has already caused much harm. To date, I have received numerous inquiries from distraught individuals, wondering if they now should even consider marrying their spouse-to-be for fear of contracting Lyme disease that some mistakenly believe to be incurable. Some fear the possibility of giving birth to an infected or congenitally deformed child, because their spouse or spouse-to-be had been diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease in the past.”
Indeed, the article is being reported and described in social media without the qualification that the article has not yet completed peer review, and someone even paid to publish a PR Web press release to publicize the article. The press release has the title, Expanded Study Confirms that Lyme Disease May Be Sexually Transmitted.The press release doesn’t mention the incomplete peer-review status of the paper.
The press release brags, “We have taken Lyme disease out of the woods and into the bedroom.”
How does the transparency that the F1000Research peer-review model provides balance with the harm that potentially false science can cause when it’s published using the open-access model? This article is an interesting case study.