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21 Sep 2015

The latest research from Murdoch University has found no evidence that Lyme disease exists in Australia, but the research has revealed that a new Australian tick species warrants further investigation.

The researchers found that no Lyme disease-associated bacteria were found in Australian ticks, but found organisms in one Australian tick, collected from a wild echidna, that caused relapsing fever.

Lead researcher Professor Peter Irwin and his team collected more than 20,000 ticks from across the country to study the bacteria they carry and their potential to cause disease.

Professor Irwin told ABC News, that his research to date had not been able to show conclusively that Australian ticks carry the Lyme disease causing bacteria, but has found organisms in one tick that could trigger a similar illness.

“Borrelia is the name of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, but there are several different types,” Professor Irwin said.

“One of the types is associated with a disease known as relapsing fever, and we found the DNA bacteria of that type in one tick.

“As the name suggests, relapsing fever causes fevers that come and go, and a wide range of other symptoms in people, some of which have similarities with Lyme disease, such as extreme fatigue and nausea.”

The Department of Health recently welcomed ground-breaking research from Murdoch University.

In 2013, Chief Medical Officer Chris Baggoley set up the Clinical Advisory Committee on Lyme disease to work out how to diagnose and treat “Lyme disease-like syndrome”. The Committee has since ceased. It found that a conclusive finding of a bacterium that could cause Lyme disease- like syndrome in Australia has yet to be made.

The Department of Health will remain engaged with Professor Irwin to consider the implications of this research for human health in Australia. They anticipate that research on ticks taken from humans will be published later in 2015.

Professor Irwin emphasised that it is not yet appropriate to link the bacteria he found in the ticks to them causing disease in humans. He said, however, it is reasonable to consider a possible link between bacteria and disease if the bacteria that are found have a close relationship to known pathogens. Nothing can be assumed without further research.

Kirsty Waterford



Published: 21 Sep 2015