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.
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.