Lyme Disease in Australia

It’s a question I get asked a lot, “is there Lyme disease in Australia?”

Unfortunately the answer is yes. There is Lyme disease in Australia and it’s surrounded by the same controversy that seems to plague tick borne infections the world over. While governments argue and deny, people get sicker.

Lyme itself is a misunderstood term, technically it refers to the spirochete shaped bacteria known as Borrelia Burgdorferi. Discovered in 1982 by researcher William Burgdorfer in tick samples taken from the town of Lyme in Conneticut, USA. The town was experiencing an epidemic of arthritic symptoms in children and adults.

Spirochetes are spiral shaped bacteria that use a wriggly corkscrew motion to move about in their host.

While Lyme disease only really refers to Borrelia Burgdorferi, it has come to be used as an umbrella term for all Borrelia species and any other organism that is transmitted by a tick such as Bartonella, Babesia, Anaplasma, Ehrlichia or Rickettsia. A more correct term for Borrelia and the co-infections is to refer to them as Tick Borne Diseases.

Let’s have a look at the research findings of ticks carrying Borrelia infections in Australia.

Australian Borrelia Timeline

In 1962, a novel species of borrelia was identified in rats and named Borrelia queenslandica.

In 1994, microbiologist Dr Michelle Wills completed and published her PhD research titled “Lyme Borreliosis, The Australian Perspective” which found that 42% of the Australian ticks that she sampled contained a borrelia-like spirochete that most closely resembles the European Borrelia species Borrelia garinii and Borrelia afzelii. Wills findings were validated by US Lyme expert  Professor Alan Barbour who was at that time with the Department of Microbiology at the University of Texas.

Dr Wills took her tick research to human populations and of the 1043 patients in her study of people who had symptoms of tick borne infections and had not left Australia, 210 people or 20% of the samples tested positive for Borrelia.

In 2017 researchers from Murdoch University in Western Australia identified a new Borrelia species in ticks found on Echidnas in New South Wales and Queensland. It is a novel species more closely related to Borrelia hermsii which is bacteria responsible for Borrelia relapsing fever. The researchers hypothesize that this Borrelia species may be endemic to Australia. (2)Since 1962, published research has shown that there are indeed Borrelia species in Australia and we need further research to determine their prevalence, location and the disease causing capacity of the unique Australian species.

Until Borrelia burgdorferi is isolated in Australian vector samples, it may technically be correct to say that there isn’t Lyme disease in Australia, but that’s really just being pedantic over Borrelia species names. So instead of arguing over species names, let’s focus  on more accurate testing, better training for doctors and better education for Australians, so that we can focus on reclaiming the health of the hundreds of thousands of people who are affected by tick borne diseases instead of denying the issue.

Briana Gunn is a Lyme focused Naturopath, successfully helping people to rebuild their health from tick borne diseases. The wonders of Skype allow her to work with people from all over Australia and the world.


4 thoughts on “Lyme Disease in Australia

    • says:

      Hi Jessica,
      I know we’ve spoken in person, but I’ll answer here too, because it’s such a great question and might help someone else.
      There’s no one size fits all answer unfortunately. It depends on where you live, Australia? America? Europe? How long you’ve been unwell, what your major symptoms are (so you know which co-infectious to test for) what your budget is and how Lyme literate your medical doctor is and whether they’d write referrals for Medicare rebates if you want to use the only Medicare rebatable Australian lab.

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