News & Views

Senate recommends action on ‘Lyme-like illness’

Anne Messenger

Published 14 December 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.17061/phrp2651664
Citation: Messenger A. Senate recommends action on ‘Lyme-like illness’. Public Health Res Pract. 2016;26(5):e2651664.

  • Citation

A year-long Australian Senate inquiry into ‘Lyme-like illness’ has recommended dedicated funding for research into the condition and into potential vector ticks, and a clinical trial of treatment guidelines created by national groups that support the existence of endemic Lyme disease in Australia.

The final report of the Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee, titled ‘Growing evidence of an emerging tick-borne disease that causes a Lyme-like illness’ also recommended, “as a matter of urgency”, a national summit to develop a cooperative multidisciplinary framework to address tick-borne illness.

More than 1200 submissions

The existence of endemic Lyme disease in Australia has been a controversial topic for many years. The committee report said it received more than 1200 submissions from “professionals articulating considered, plausible, yet contradictory views”.

“This evidence, presented … mirrored the tangled public discourse which has been going around in circles for years: do pathogens responsible for Lyme disease exist in Australia, which pathology results are reliable, who do we believe?”

An Australian Department of Health spokesperson was unable to comment immediately after the report’s release, however its website states that many Australians associate their “chronic debilitating symptoms” with a tick bite. NSW (New South Wales) Health, in its online

NSW (New South Wales) Health, in an online fact sheet advises that although locally acquired Lyme borreliosis cannot be ruled out, there is little evidence that it occurs in Australia.

Clinical treatment guidelines

The report’s recommendations include:

Research expensive to do

A long-time researcher of tick-borne disease, Professor Peter Irwin from Murdoch University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Western Australia, said the problem for patients with ‘Lyme-like illness’ was that, once they sought medical attention, they ran into problems.

“We are one of several groups who’ve been working on this for a while. There needs to be dedicated money put aside for this problem, so that we can drill down into [health problems of] people bitten by ticks.

“All our previous and ongoing research is on the ticks, but we’ve moved into the human field because we have the right methodology to apply to humans, and we have medical people with us. But it’s expensive to do, it’s advanced molecular biology and you need large numbers of people, but only a small proportion [of people bitten by ticks] develop any illness.”

Dr Miles Beaman, an infectious diseases physician and clinical microbiologist from Western Diagnostic Pathology in Perth, said the committee’s recommendations were all “sensible suggestions but, as with all things government, they won’t amount to anything unless the talk is turned into action”.

“Funding is the critical issue, and it should be for multidisciplinary groups with expertise in clinical infectious diseases, laboratory pathology and basic microbiology research – those with experience in the scientific method).”

The Australian Chronic Infectious and Inflammatory Diseases Society and the Karl McManus Foundation did not respond to requests for comment on the report.