Last week, the Australian television news show, Today Tonight, posted a segment on Lyme disease in Australia and how it has become a controversial issue as a number of Australians who have never left the country were bitten by ticks and developed symptoms very much like those of Lyme disease.
As far as it is known, the bacteria which causes Lyme disease has not been detected in ticks in Australia - unless the researchers mentioned in the previous episode of Today Tonight which was covered here have finally discovered it. Without their official announcement, though, it has been the situation that cases of Lyme disease within the country which have been confirmed were attributed to infections acquired overseas. Any recent reports of Lyme disease contracted within Australia have become controversial.
This week, Today Tonight has posted another segment about a man, Robert Sotur, who became ill on the job after numerous tick bites and won a government workmans compensation case due to an infection with Lyme disease.
This is pretty notable because he received compensation for a disease that the Federal Government, the Australian Medical Association, and Australian State Governments all say doesn't exist in Australia.
View the video of the show and transcript here: http://au.news.yahoo.com/today-tonight/health/article/-/12972227/lyme-disease-compensation/
A lawyer, David Jones (yes, seriously, David Jones - wonder how much tiresome joking he gets about that name), who is working on behalf of over fifty patients who never left Australia yet have come down with Lyme disease-like symptoms in Australia made this statement to Today Tonight:
"There needs to be an acceptance that there are many people within our community that are having symptoms that are Lyme or Lyme-like, and Governments need to take these people seriously. They need to commission the research, and they need to determine whether or not this disease, or a disease like it, exists here in Australia.”
He's right. If one man has won a workmans compensation case within Australia for falling ill after tick bites, there will likely be others. More than fifty, judging from his caseload alone. But there will be far fewer cases if the research is done to find the causative agent of this disease and to treat people for it as soon as possible.
If it is a bacterial agent, then unlike Ross River Virus and other viral infections which are more well known throughout Australia - early treatment can prevent more serious symptoms and potential permanent damage, and in the worst case scenario - death, as in the case of Karl McManus.
Given the limited amount of recent surveillance and examination of ticks for an indigenous spirochete that could cause a condition similar to Lyme disease - if not the potential importation of Borrelia spirochetes from neighboring Asia - it is not clear what reality is. The last major study to discover if Australian ticks harbored a spirochete similar to one that causes Lyme disease was conducted over 15 years ago. The situation may be different now.
Australian support groups for patients with tickborne illnesses have not only reported being bitten by ticks and falling ill afterwards - some have also reported infestations of bird mites preceding the onset of their symptoms. If this is the case, there may be more than one pathogen and more than one vector responsible for an overlapping set of symptoms in patients. Careful and thorough research is needed to sort it out.
My advice to any Australians reading this is whether or not the controversy of the existence of Lyme disease in your country is resolved soon that you do what you can to protect yourself from tick bites. Learn how to properly remove a tick to minimize the risk of infection, find a place to send your ticks for analysis, and educate yourself about the spectrum of symptoms which are related to ALL tickborne diseases and not just Lyme disease.
Tularemia was discovered in Tasmania last year and there is evidence beyond a doubt of its presence. Lyme disease now appears to be a possibility. And then there are those mosquito-borne and tickborne conditions of which many Australians are already familiar with such as Ross River Virus, Barmah Forest Virus, Tick Typhus, and Tick Paralysis - none of which you want if you can avoid them.
See a doctor if you suspect you have contracted a tickborne infection - remember, it may or may not be Lyme disease and treatment will be different for coinfections. But do go as soon as possible in order to prevent serious and potentially long-lasting complications.
And last but not least:
Petition your government, CSIRO, and local universities to do more research on tickborne illnesses including Lyme disease. Make sure you have your own homegrown research teams that will investigate the possibility of Lyme-like illnesses from pathogens transmitted by both bird mites and ticks. Ask Australian scientists to pave their own path and to not feel obliged to model all their investigations and guidelines for treatment based on those found in the northern hemisphere until it is more certain what is happening. In the meantime, treatment will probably be empiric and based on history, symptoms, and test results.
Here is a helpful link with short videos on the prevention of tick bites and safe removal of ticks:
Rather than just "Slip, Slap, Slop", learn to "Cover, Check, Clasp"?: http://campother.blogspot.com/2011/06/video-tick-removal.html
Fine-nosed tweezers are your friends, and not flame throwers and lighters...
Links to Australian tick bite related posts on this site:
About the first Today Tonight show this year on Lyme disease:
On the outbreak of Tularemia in Tasmania late last year:
On the use of marsupial cathelicidin peptides to fight infection:
On Australian research on the relationship between tick bites and red meat allergies:
On Google search trends, and how Australians rank in the search for information on Lyme disease using Google:
Links to Australian resources on Lyme disease outside of this blog:
CSIRO Public Health Advice on Ticks:
The Karl McManus Foundation:
Lyme Disease Association of Australia:
Lyme Green Australia blog:
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