"I was in an electric wheelchair for eight years," explains Nikki Coleman of the Lyme Disease Association of Australia. Once she began treatment for Lyme disease, her condition improved. "I can start earning money, I can start paying tax, I can start contributing to society."
Lyme disease (borreliosis) is a tick-borne bacterial infection. The infection, which can begin with a fever and bullseye-shaped rash, can be treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, it can sometimes spread to different parts of the body -causing symptoms like neck stiffness, shooting pains from nerve damage, heartbeat irregularities and a loss of muscle tone in the face called Bell's palsy.
Although doctors accept that travellers can contract Lyme disease overseas, there is debate about the existence of the bacteria in Australia. Australians who have not travelled overseas have developed symptoms similar to those of Lyme disease. However, many doctors are not certain if the cause of their illness is the Lyme bacteria.
|Location of Lyme disease patients reporting tick bites. |
Source: Lyme Disease Association of Australia
The disease is controversial. Practitioners such as Royal Australian College of General Practitioners spokesman Ronald McCoy express sympathy for people showing Lyme-like symptoms but believes it is not Lyme disease. "I'm not saying people are lying," Dr McCoy says. "The College is very much evidence-based medicine and we can only really go on the evidence we have at this time."
Others are certain the disease exists in Australia. "We're talking about the fastest spreading disease in the world," said Queensland GP Andrew Ladhams. He has been treating Lyme patients for the past nine years.
To help resolve this conflict, the Department of Health and Aging (DoHA) has established a Clinical Advisory Committee on Lyme Disease to provide advice on: identifying the microorganism; diagnosing Australian cases; and deciding on treatment options. The committee has commissioned a research study to begin next year.