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June 20, 2024

Lyme: a dangerous disease that gets under your skin

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Lyme patient Marlena Connors suffers a seizure in the film Under Our Skin.
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Francene Lee Taylor

We freak out when our beloved pets get a tick, but little do we know that even the smallest of infected ticks can pass on numerous life-threatening infections to humans.

Lyme disease has nothing to do with citrus. It was named after a town in Connecticut in the USA where this chronic disease was first identified.

It’s become a global disease epidemic, which is often a mystery for Australian doctors. As vectors, or carriers of infections, the bite from infected ticks can pass on diseases with mysterious names like Borrelia, Rickettsia (tick typhus), Babesia, Bartonella and Lyme disease.

The spirochetes of the Lyme-causing Borrelia bacteria are the corkscrew-like causative agents much smaller than the bacterium itself. They tunnel into cells and spread the bacteria DNA throughout the body, causing the debilitating infection. These spirochetes protect infected cells with a complex defence of biofilms and cysts, making chronic infections harder to treat.

Lyme is one of the fastest growing tick-borne infections in the world. Each year 300,000 (0.1 per cent) of people in the USA are infected. Similar epidemic figures from around the globe suggest 21,000 Australians could be infected annually.

The symptoms of Lyme disease can vary greatly from person to person: joint pain, extreme fatigue, numbness, tingling, stabbing pains, night sweats, cognitive dysfunction, air hunger and recurring fevers caused by the body’s responses to the infection.

Yet Lyme disease is not officially recognised in Australia. Negative test results are controversial, as many Australian and overseas types of the disease are not included in the testing.

Chronic Lyme is also known as a great imitator with vague symptoms. It of often mimics symptoms of Motor Neurone Disease (ALS), or Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia.

When I was bitten by ticks and was concerned about having Lyme disease, my local doctor said there is no Lyme disease in Australia according to the government advice at that time.

Local tests were negative, but DNA testing in America came back positive for Lyme disease. The controversy facing Australian doctors and patients has been the lack of recent research into what diseases Australian ticks are carrying.

My search for answers led to the Karl McManus Foundation and, wanting to be proactive, I founded the Northern Rivers Lyme Network http://bit.ly/NRLNtick, aligning with The Karl McManus Foundation.

The Foundation is funding research at Sydney University to provide up-to-date evidence needed for improvements to testing, diagnosis and treatment of Australian tick-borne diseases, including Lyme.

Although Lyme is not an officially recordable disease – with no official statistics – the growing number of Australians affected has forced federal and state health authorities to update their infectious diseases advice, saying that while doctors should not rule out Lyme Borreliosis, more evidence is needed.

Mullum screening

For Lyme Awareness Month, the Northern Rivers Lyme Network is screening the internationally award-winning documentary Under Our Skin at Mullumbimby, Santos Heart Space, Friday May 23 at 6.30pm. Another screening will be held at the Byron Bay Community Centre on Saturday May 31 at 2pm. To support this important research, donations can be made to the karlmcmanusfoundation.com.au website or contact Francene on 6680 3347. See more about the film Under Our Skin at www.underourskin.com.


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  1. My daughter has tested positive for the Borella bacteria and has been diagnosed with Lyme

    We live in the Brisbane area

    She was bitten by a tick approximately 18 months ago

    She was originally diagnosed with chronic Fatigue, however as a mother I would not accept that a young woman of 20 has so many symptoms
    Fatigue, headaches, dizziness, body aches, Joint pain, night sweats, lack of concentration, stomache pain.

  2. After contracting Ross River and Barmah forest viruses, I am convinced I suffered the insult to injury of Lyme disease. I live in a rainforest and believe that these viruses are related and one infection leaves a person more vulnerable to the others. First in the cannoning downward spiral was Chicken pox ( thanks to my beautiful daughters ) then Glandular Fever then the above with indecent haste. All of the sequence has been documented by my GP but…… they refused to even test me for the Lyme Disease because “it doesn’t occur in Australia”. The above list of viruses took approximately ten years to clear my system and have had an ongoing effect on my well-being, but take heart the horrific symptoms of chronic fatigue do eventually lessen.
    Dear, J Shaw have patience and build your daughters immune system with fresh food and lotsaluv. I’m sure at her age she will fully recover.

    • How did you treat your viruses Ken? Ive been chronically unwell for 12 years with severe ME/CFS & FIBROMYALGIA however after reading a bit about Lyme disease this sounds like me also especially as ive developed a new symptom of night sweats & hair loss in the last year which i read may be a sign of late stage Lyme Disease?
      Any info or places to contact in Australia would be greatly appreciated.

  3. What treatment would an infected person expect to receive? How long do symptoms last? Is the desease life threatening? I stay in a tick prone area and I am constantly removing ticks from my body!


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