What is Lyme Disease?
- Lyme disease is an infectious illness caused by the bacterium known as Borrelia, which creates a condition more correctly known as Borreliosis or Lyme Borreliosis.
- The name 'Lyme disease' was coined in the United States of America when an outbreak of juvenile arthritis occurred in the town of Lyme, Connecticut, and the outbreak was subsequently found to be caused by the Borrelia bacteria.
- Borrelia is a spirochete form of bacteria that is usually transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected vector (carrier), usually a tick.
- People with Lyme disease are frequently diagnosed with other co-infections caused by vector-borne bacteria and parasites such as Babesia, Bartonella, Rickettsia, Mycoplasma and Ehrlichia.
- Video: What is Lyme Disease? Easy to watch for people who have difficulty reading.
- Lyme disease manifests as a multi-systemic illness that can result in symptoms affecting random parts of the body including the muscles, joints, organs, brain, gastro-intestinal and neurological systems.
- In the US, the bullseye rash (erythema migrans) of Lyme disease is only present in approximately 25% of cases. The other 25% of the time, it resembles a solid spreading rash which could be confused with a bacterial infection of the skin (cellulitis) or spider bite. Furthermore, many patients do not develop a rash at all. If you are concerned you may have Lyme disease, start by printing and completing Dr Richard Horowitz's questionnaire. It's a great starting place for clarity and discussion with your Lyme-aware doctor.
- Lyme disease is typically categorised into early and late stage disease. Most diagnosed cases in Australia have progressed to the late stage because there are no early intervention strategies in place to ensure appropriate treatment following tick bites.
- Symptoms in early stage Lyme disease (close to the time of the bite) commonly include: flu-like symptoms, headaches, fever, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, muscle aches and joint pain.
- Symptoms in late stage Lyme disease (extending to many months, or even years, following tick bite) often manifests as multi-systemic illness, which may include: gastro-intestinal problems, neurological problems, balance problems, chronic fatigue and random muscle and joint pain. Late stage Lyme disease can be mild, moderate or severe and, if left untreated, an cause severe disability or become fatal.
- Lyme disease is potentially fatal.
- Additional references and further information on Symptoms, Myths about Lyme disease and Frequently Ask Questions.
- The first Australian-acquired case of Lyme disease was reported in New South Wales in 1982.
- Current and accurate figures of Lyme cases in Australia are unknown because Lyme disease is not a notifiable disease in Australia and patients are not formally counted.
- Many patients with Lyme disease are not properly tested and are often diagnosed with other conditions in the early stage of their illness.
- The LDAA estimates there are well over 2,000 medically confirmed cases in Australia and many more, perhaps in the order of hundreds of thousands, undiagnosed cases.
- Borrelia has been found on every continent, except Antarctica, and can be spread via ticks carried by migrating sea birds.
- Positive diagnoses for Lyme disease have been recorded in all age groups and socio-economic groups, with infections reported and acquired in all states and territories of Australia, in both suburban and country areas
This link provides an overview of research which supports the existence of Borrelia in Australia.
Lyme disease and its common co-infections are likely to be transmitted in multiple ways. Most commonly, Lyme disease is spread via a tick bite, however, other suspected modes of transmission include:
- Placental transfer (from mother to unborn baby) and through breast milk;Contact with urine and other bodily fluids from infected animals;
- Blood transfusions (blood banks do not screen donated blood for these pathogens); and
- Sexual transmission.
Further information and an extensive list of research sources on alternate modes of Transmission is available here.
The LDAA contends further research is required to confirm the growing body of anecdotal evidence and preliminary research which suggests alternate modes of transmission are possible.
- The Lyme Disease Association of Australia asserts:
- Lyme disease is a clinical diagnosis, based on a patient’s history, symptoms and current presentation. Blood tests can be used to support a Lyme disease diagnosis; however they may not be entirely reliable. Blood tests should not be the defining mechanism used to rule out Lyme disease as a diagnosis.
- If a patient presents with Lyme-like symptoms, Lyme disease and its associated co-infections should be properly investigated and ruled out before reaching a conclusive diagnosis. Further information on diagnosis and testing is available on the LDAA site.
- At this time, Australian testing facilities are not adequately equipped to test for all the Borrelia species that can cause Lyme-like illness. The LDAA suggests that the most reliable testing is currently conducted through the IGeneX lab in the United States of America and Infectolab in Germany.
- The LDAA’s concerns about the inadequacies of Australian testing processes are detailed in the LDAA's formal response to the Department of Health’s Scoping Study commissioned by the Chief Medical Officer (pages 23-31).
- Further information and references for this section.
- The diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease and its associated co-infections can be very complex and few Australian doctors are trained in managing this condition.
- The LDAA advises patients who suspect they have Lyme disease to consult with an experienced Lyme-literate doctor who can identify Lyme-related infections, decide if testing is required and guide treatments based on clinical presentation. Most Lyme-literate doctors are willing to mentor less experienced GPs for follow-on treatment.
Patients should be treated according to one, or a combination of, the following Australian Treatment Guidelines:
- Australian Chronic Infectious and Inflammatory Disease Society (a closed members only group).
- International Lyme and Associated Disease Society - Guidelines.
- Diagnostic Hints and Treatment Guidelines for Lyme and other tick borne illnesses by by Dr J Burrascano.
- Guidelines and treatment of the German Borreliosis Society.
- Further information on treatment options and finding a Lyme-literate doctor
For further information and references supporting the above statements you can visit our references section here.