What Does AI Know About Lyme Disease

The arrival of ChatGPT, Google Bard, and other artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots has sparked a flurry of interest and concern, particularly in the field of healthcare. As many in the tick-borne disease community know, there is a lot of information floating around the Internet about Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections—and not all of it is accurate or helpful. So will today’s AI chatbots help clear up common misconceptions, or will they perpetuate misinformation that leads many people with Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses to stay sicker longer?

The Project Lyme team decided to assess two popular AI chatbots—ChatGPT and Google Bard—using questions from our Lyme IQ Test. Here’s how they did:


1. Can you have Lyme disease even if you did not see a tick bite or rash?

Both ChatGPT and Google Bard answered correctly, with ChatGPT making the additional point that a tick bite may be difficult to see in a hard-to-check place, like the back, buttocks, or around the scalp. However, neither AI addressed the fact that someone might get a rash that doesn’t look like the typical bull’s-eye or erythema migrans, increasing the likelihood of misdiagnosis.

2. How quickly can a tick transmit an infection via a bite?

ChatGPT perpetuates old false information that a tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours to transmit Lyme disease to a human host. Google Bard comes closer with its estimate of 24 hours. However, studies like this one have documented evidence of Lyme being transmitted in less than 24 hours, and research shows the Powassan virus can infect a person within 15 minutes of tick attachment. The truth is, no minimum attachment time for contracting Lyme disease has ever been established, and no tick bite is “safe.”

3. If I test negative for Lyme disease, can I still be infected?

Both AI chatbots acknowledge how common it is to get a false negative on a Lyme test, especially if the patient is tested soon after the tick bite, as antibodies can take several weeks to develop. Google Bard also mentions other contributing factors, including the test’s lack of sensitivity, the possibility the patient was infected by other tick-borne diseases, and a weakened immune system that cannot produce enough antibodies for a positive result. It’s important to remember that Lyme disease can’t be ruled out by a negative test, so consulting a doctor who’s knowledgeable about tick-borne diseases and can diagnose a patient clinically is key.

4. What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

ChatGPT and Google Bard touch on some of the most well-known symptoms of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, such as flu-like symptoms, fatigue, and muscle aches and pains. However, they don’t emphasize how this disease is multisystemic once it has had time to disseminate throughout the body, affecting the neurological, cardiological, urological, gastrointestinal, and endocrine and reproductive systems. For a more complete overview of symptoms in both early and late-stage Lyme, see this resource on our website.

5. Is it possible to contract multiple infections from one tick bite?

Both AI chatbots answered correctly that ticks can carry and transmit more than one infection to a host. In fact, ChatGPT points out that the presence of co-infections can complicate a person’s diagnosis and treatment. That’s one reason why if you find a tick, we suggest that you remove it promptly and safely and then save it for testing. Learn more on our website.

6. How many states have reported cases of Lyme disease?

Using data from the CDC, ChatGPT and Google Bard report that cases of Lyme disease have been found in all 50 states. While this is correct, both chatbots emphasize that Lyme disease is most concentrated in the Northeast, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic regions, which may give the public a false sense of security about the rest of the U.S. In reality, Lyme and other tick-borne diseases can be found anywhere, and ticks continue to expand their geographical range.

7. How long do you need to treat to eradicate Lyme disease?

Both ChatGPT and Google Bard suggest a 2 to 4-week course of oral antibiotics. However, most Lyme doctors recommend 4-6 weeks of oral antibiotic therapy as a prophylactic after a tick bite (usually 200 mg of doxycycline taken twice per day). And for patients who have been dealing with persistent symptoms, treatment may be even longer and more complex. It may involve combinations of antibiotics as well as naturopathic or alternative medicine techniques. It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for Lyme disease, and everyone’s journey to health will look a little different.

Limitations of AI

AI chatbots seem capable of gathering basic information about Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses and offering common prevention tips. The danger comes when someone needs more in-depth knowledge. On the topic of chronic Lyme disease, for instance, where there is much debate, AI cannot provide the kind of nuance that human experts with lived experience can. Patients who have spent years or even decades of their lives seeking answers and relief from painful symptoms require the help of a physician who understands tick-borne diseases.

Generally speaking, AI chatbots may be able to access a lot of medical facts, but that doesn’t make them practicing doctors. They cannot diagnose someone with Lyme disease or another tick-borne infection, nor can they provide treatment plans tailed to individuals. As long as people can keep these limitations in mind, AI can be a useful tool to help spread awareness of and offer a fundamental education on Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.