Francene Lee Taylor
Following the recent senate inquiry into Lyme disease, NSW central coast veterinarian Dr John Curnow has come forward with some key information that may prove to be the missing link in the Australian Lyme disease debate.
In Australia today, thousands of people who show Lyme-like symptoms are without medical help and too often shunned by the medical profession itself, who deny the existence of the disease altogether.
The question asked repeatedly by Australian patients and their families is: why can’t they be tested for the disease here, instead of having to travel overseas, usually at great cost and detriment to their already failing health?
Dr Curnow says, ‘The current testing done for Lyme disease in Australia is only for the Lyme Borrelia species of the disease, whose home is the eastern seaboard of the United States. [It’s] not for the other species of Borrelia, which are likely to be endemic here on this continent.’s
Because of this, most patients tested in Australia are left undiagnosed and untreated.
‘The infection carried by ticks differs from country to country and we need a test specifically for Australia,’ says Dr Curnow.
As one of the country’s leading experts on tick- and vector-borne diseases, Dr Curnow should know; many of his key findings have been published in leading scientific journals, including the prestigious Nature.
Dr Curnow was working as a vet in 1982 when the disease was first noticed in Australia and he has startling previously unknown information.
He says that for six years patients were being treated and were recovering, but that in 1988, Australian authorities decided to use the US test to establish if people had the disease.
‘Between 1988 and 1994, the Westmead Laboratory tested four thousand, three hundred and seventy-eight local patients with symptoms of the disease and only seventy-eight tested positive.
‘At this stage, alarm bells should have been ringing and the medical profession should have been researching to find why people with obvious symptoms were testing negative.
‘For the next 22 years they continued with the American test and continued to get negative results. They used these results to deny patients any treatment,’ says Dr Curnow.
John aded, ‘The Karl McManus Foundation, a Sydney-based charity supporting Lyme victims, is advocating for better testing and funding research at the Sydney University Tick-Borne Diseases Unit.
‘What we need more than ever is a serious public debate following the recent senate inquiry.
‘The vital testing process should be reassessed and ultimately uncomfortable questions should be asked that the medical establishment seems to be avoiding.’
And there is good reason.
If Dr Curnow’s revelations prove to be correct, the implications for cases of medical negligence could be immense with thousands of Australians suffering owing to this great oversight.
Know thy parasite month
May is world Lyme disease month, and Francene Lee Taylor will be sharing information on tick awareness, prevention and safe removal of ticks at the following locations:
Mullumbimby Santos Organics, Wednesday May 10 from 10am.
Go Vita, Byron Bay, May 12 from 10am.
Francene Lee Taylor has suffered with tick-borne diseases (including Lyme disease) for the past 12 years. Joining Francene for these events will be Sherria Powell, who has driven halfway around Australia raising awareness. All money raised goes to the Karl McManus Foundation.
AMA’s position on Lyme disease
A spokesperson from the AMA told The Echo they follow the advice of the Australian government’s chief medical officer.
‘[The advice is that] the organism that causes Lyme disease has not been found in Australia, and that many Australian patients have not travelled overseas to endemic areas, so the likelihood that they have Lyme disease is very low.’
AMA vice-president Dr Tony Bartone also recently said there could be a number of competing explanations for conditions that resemble Lyme disease. He told the www.theadvocate.com.au, ‘We’ve got to still deal with the facts and evidence-based medicine, but that shouldn’t prevent us from being compassionate,’ he said.
The chief medical officer’s statement from October last year can be found at www.health.gov.au/lyme-disease#statement-cmo.