Lyme disease does not exist in Australia, researchers say

Thousands of Australians claim to be suffering from tick-borne Lyme disease but a new report insists there is no evidence it exists in Australia. Researchers said there was no evidence the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease was found in local animals or ticks, and said positive test results in people who had not been overseas were likely to be false positives. What is Lyme disease? Lyme disease can impact many bodily systems and organs and can in some cases mimic other illnesses. The Lyme Disease Association of Australia explains how the disease is transmitted and the typical symptoms. Australian medical authorities have long denied the existence of Lyme in Australia, despite growing numbers of Australians claiming to have contracted it locally. Lyme Disease Association Australia’s Sharon Whiteman said the definition of Lyme disease should be expanded to include more than one strain of Borrlia bacteria. “The denial of Lyme disease in Australia is based on the fact they are attributing the definition of Lyme disease to the original 1970-1980 definition of Lyme being caused by a single North American strain of Borrelia Burgdoferi Sensu Stricto,” Ms Whiteman said. “It’s non-scientific to deny evidence of these pathogens with very little contemporary research.” In the Medical Journal of Australia, the report’s authors expressed concern about the increasing number of patients asking to be treated with antibiotics for what is now being referred to as “Lyme disease-like illness”. ACT pathology executive director and Australian National University professor Peter Collignon and his co-author Dr Gary Lum, principal medical adviser with the Federal Health Department, said the label of “Lyme disease-like illness” had led patients to believe they could be cured by prolonged antibiotic therapy. They warned it could be hazardous to patients and the broader community, with antibiotic resistance from prolonged and unnecessary use a major problem. “Until there is strong evidence from well performed clinical studies that bacteria present in Australia cause a chronic debilitating illness that responds to extended antibiotic therapy, treating patients with so-called ‘Lyme disease-like illness’ with prolonged intravenous or oral antibiotic therapy is both unjustifiable and unethical,” the report said. “[It] is likely to do much more harm than good.” Illnesses caused by tick-borne bacteria yet to be identified The report said while there was no evidence of Lyme, Australians did acquire unusual novel infections and some commonly recognised infections from ticks. They acknowledged some may have illnesses caused by tick-borne bacteria that were yet to be identified. Ms Whiteman said greater resources and research needed to be dedicated to the condition to better understand it. “Even the most vocal ‘No Lyme disease in Australia’ medical professionals agree that Australian ticks carry a plethora of pathogens, most not researched in humans. The problem isn’t lack of evidence, it’s lack of prioritised research,” she said. The debate surrounding Lyme or a “Lyme-like” disease in Australia is a controversial and often emotional one. An ongoing Senate inquiry into tick-borne disease in Australia has received more than 1,200 submissions, many from people whose lives have been devastated by Lyme-like illness. Their stories are similar, marked by suicidal thoughts, dismissive doctors and chronic fatigue syndrome. A public hearing is scheduled, with Dr Lum and sufferers of the disease set to give evidence.

ABC News, 1 November 2016 ; ;