On a rare occasion where Today Tonight got it right, the program exposes the cover-up of Lyme Disease infection in Australia.
Tick-borne Lyme disease is not easy to diagnose, and according to some medical authorities, it is not present in Australian ticks. However, this is a matter for controversy, with some sufferers saying there is evidence to the contrary.
According to local woman Sheryl Rennie, who says she has had the disease for 18 years, tick-borne Lyme disease is ‘the biggest mimic of other diseases, eg leukaemia, MS, brucellosis etc, and many people in the northern rivers are going undiagnosed as pathology in Australia does not have a test for Lyme’.
One of the other recognised physical symptoms is a characteristic circular skin rash called erythema migrans (EM).
‘If you go undiagnosed for more than one year you would be very sick, and classed as chronic Lyme,’ says Ms Rennie.
‘If you have any of these symptoms – malaise, migrating joint pain, Bells Palsy (in any part of your body), headaches, rashes, problems with your heart (racing, jumping), eyesight, liver, memory loss, anxiety attacks, depression, fever or a feeling of dread, and that you might die – you could have Lyme.
‘You could be suffering all of these symptoms at once or experiencing them separately or at different times. Lyme also has co-infections such as chlamydia, rickettsia and more.
‘Lyme disease can kill, or leave you in a wheelchair with chronic arthritis, muscle wasting, neurological and heart problems.’
However, according to Ms Rennie, ‘A simple course of the right antibiotic can cure someone of Lyme if they are diagnosed within the first weeks’.
Testing for Lyme
Ms Rennie claims if you have even some of these symptoms and are unwell it’s well worth having a test for Lyme. She recommends lymedisease.org.au. ‘There you will find a Lyme-friendly doctor who will send your blood to Igenex in the USA for testing.’ The cost of the test is $700.
Health NSW’s position in its fact sheet on Lyme disease is that ‘there is little evidence that Lyme disease is caused by Australian ticks’ but ‘there may be other infections carried by Australian ticks which may cause an infection which is similar to Lyme disease. These infections remain poorly characterised.’
Thus Lyme disease is not notifiable in NSW.
However Health NSW has moved on somewhat since publication of its fact sheet. After a meeting with Lyme disease advocacy groups the departments has been recorded as stating, ‘Health NSW will review the current Lyme disease resources available on the Health NSW website to ensure that these do not discourage clinicians from keeping an open mind about the possibility of locally acquired Lyme disease’.
This is in response to an ABC news report in September, ‘Victims demand Lyme disease recognition’. You can read the notes from the meeting between Health NSW and Lyme disease advocacy groups.
Dealing with ticks
Currently Health NSW’s advice on dealing with ticks is: ‘Remove a tick as soon as possible after locating it.
Use fine-pointed tweezers and grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Gently pull the tick straight out with steady pressure.
‘If you have difficulty, seek medical attention.
Do not try to kill the tick with methylated spirits or any other chemicals as this will cause the tick to inject more toxins. If you have a severe infestation by larval-stage ticks (often referred to as grass ticks) take a bath for 30 minutes with one cup of bicarbonate of soda.’
A US background article on Lyme disease, written by a doctor, is available at http://www.medicinenet.com/lyme_disease/article.htm.