For seven years, Tanya Dupagne lived with symptoms that doctors couldn’t put their finger on. Fatigue, extreme pain, poor concentration, brain fog, low-grade fever, issues with her muscles. One neurologist suggested she may have Multiple Sclerosis, but it was when someone mentioned the tick-borne illness, Lyme Disease, that everything clicked for Tanya.
The former Rural Woman of the Year and head of the children’s charity Camp Kulin in W.A. had been bitten by a tick while working in the United States, which is a known hotspot for the disease.
But as she discovered, the Australian medical community’s resistance to claims that the disease occurs locally makes diagnosis and treatment — even for accepted cases like hers — incredibly hard to come by.
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme Disease is an illness caused by an infection from the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, typically transmitted to humans via the bite of some species of ticks. Ticks carrying the infection can be found in Asia, Europe and North America.
In fact, Lyme Disease is the most common tick-borne illness in the Northern Hemisphere. The US’s public health institute (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) alone receives reports of roughly 30,000 Lyme Disease cases each year.
But according to researchers, it doesn’t exist in Australia.
Why is it not recognised in Australia?
According to the Medical Journal of Australia and a number of medical authorities, including the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia, there is no convincing evidence that Lyme Disease occurs in Australia, nor is there evidence that the bacteria that causes it exists in any Australian animal or insect.
However, some people argue that this evidence is based on a sole 1994 government-funded research study that failed to find the North American strain of the bacteria in Aussie ticks. Critics of the research argue that it didn’t test for similar strains of the bacteria that may cause illness and nor did it test any other insect, such as a mosquito or a flea, that may carry the same or similar strains.
Listen to The Quicky, Mamamia’s daily news podcast, talk about Lyme Disease. Post continues below.
How is Lyme Disease diagnosed in Australia?
As a result of the Australian medical community’s position on local Lyme Disease and the fact that symptoms (including a circular red rash around the tick bite, fever, headache, joint aches or swelling, and swollen lymph nodes) can also be caused by a host of other conditions, diagnosis can be difficult to come by.
It usually occurs via a combination of clinical presentation (ie. a doctor’s assessment of symptoms) and lab testing.
However, there are questions about whether Australian labs are equipped to test for the bacteria. Some say that, as a result, patients have been scammed into spending large amounts of money to send blood to unaccredited overseas labs, only to get a false-positive result and then put themselves through unnecessary treatment.