Lyme Disease in Australia + Symptoms and Testing

tickImage credit.

Lyme disease is an infection caused by the spirochete bacteria Borrelia Burgdorferi similar to the bacteria that causes Syphilis, the definition has also been expanded to include Afzelii, Andersonii, Garinii strains of Borrelia. It is transmitted from infected ticks (and possibly insects) to humans and is found worldwide. Lyme disease is named after the town of Lyme and Old Lyme in Connecticut, USA where the infection was first discovered in 1975. Lyme disease is commonly accompanied by a number of co-infections including but not limited to Babesioisis, Bartonella, Ehrlichiosis, Tularemia, Rikettsia & Mycoplasma. These diseases cause their own unique symptoms on top of those commonly suffered by individuals infected with Lyme disease.

If detected early Lyme disease treatment is usually relatively simple and effective. Early Lyme disease causes symptoms such as flu like symptoms, headaches, fever, muscle soreness & unexplained fatigue. Less than 50% of those infected with Lyme Disease develop the “bulls-eye” (or erthema migrans) rash a few days or even a few weeks after their tick bite. Quite often a tick bite goes completely unnoticed because the ticks are the size of a poppy-seed and no rash is evident.

Because of the complete lack of awareness of the existence of Lyme Disease in Australia and the political climate of Lyme Disease in the US, the early symptoms are typically ignored by doctors or mistaken as a viral infection, leaving a serious infection untreated. If the infection is left untreated the long term consequences of this are serious and can cause a wide range of debilitating symptoms and occasionally death. The spirochete bacteria can spread and go into hiding in the body living in the blood, cells, tissues and organs. It is very smart and can hide from the immune system by decreasing expression of surface proteins that the immune systems usually targets with antibodies. It also forms bio-films which protect itself from attack by the immune system and antibiotics. They call Lyme disease ‘the great imitator’ because Chronic Lyme is commonly misdiagnosed as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, MS, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Alzheimer’s Disease etc. Lyme Disease can affect various organs in the body including muscles & joints, the heart, gastro-intestinal system & neurological system (including the brain).

Chronic Lyme Disease Symptoms may include:

Head, Face, Neck

    • Unexplained hair loss
    • Headache, mild or severe, Seizures
    • Pressure in head, white matter lesions in brain (MRI)
    • Facial paralysis (Bell’s Palsy, Homer’s syndrome)
    • Tingling of nose, (tip of) tongue, cheek or facial flushing
    • Stiff or painful neck
    • Twitching of facial or other muscles
    • Jaw pain or stiffness
    • Dental problems (unexplained)
    • Sore throat, clearing throat a lot, phlegm ( flem ), hoarseness, runny nose

Eyes/Vision

    • Double or blurry vision
    • Increased floating spots
    • Pain in eyes, or swelling around eyes
    • Oversensitivity to light
    • Flashing lights/Peripheral waves/phantom images in corner of eyes

Ears/Hearing

    • Decreased hearing in one or both ears, plugged ears
    • Buzzing in ears
    • Pain in ears, oversensitivity to sounds
    • Ringing in one or both ears

Digestive and Excretory Systems

    • Diarrhea
    • Constipation
    • Irritable bladder (trouble starting, stopping) or Interstitial cystitis
    • Upset stomach (nausea or pain) or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)

Musculoskeletal System

    • Bone pain, joint pain or swelling, carpal tunnel syndrome
    • Stiffness of joints, back, neck, tennis elbow
    • Muscle pain or cramps (Fibromyalgia)

Respiratory and Circulatory Systems

    • Shortness of breath, can’t get full/satisfying breath, cough
    • Chest pain or rib soreness
    • Night sweats or unexplained chills
    • Heart palpitations or extra beats
    • Endocarditis, Heart blockage

Neurologic System

    • Tremors or unexplained shaking
    • Burning or stabbing sensations in the body
    • Fatigue, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, weakness, peripheral neuropathy or partial paralysis
    • Pressure in the head
    • Numbness in body, tingling, pinpricks
    • Poor balance, dizziness, difficulty walking
    • Increased motion sickness
    • Lightheadedness, wooziness

Psychological well-being

    • Mood swings, irritability, bi-polar disorder
    • Unusual depression
    • Disorientation (getting or feeling lost)
    • Feeling as if you are losing your mind
    • Over-emotional reactions, crying easily
    • Too much sleep, or insomnia
    • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
    • Narcolepsy, sleep apnea
    • Panic attacks, anxiety

Mental Capability

    • Memory loss (short or long term)
    • Confusion, difficulty in thinking
    • Difficulty with concentration or reading
    • Going to the wrong place
    • Speech difficulty (slurred or slow)
    • Stammering speech
    • Forgetting how to perform simple tasks

Reproduction and Sexuality

    • Loss of sex drive
    • Sexual dysfunction
    • Unexplained menstral pain, irregularity
    • Unexplained breast pain, discharge
    • Testicular or pelvic pain

General Well-being

  • Phantom smells
  • Unexplained weight gain, loss
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Swollen glands/lymph nodes
  • Unexplained fevers (high or low grade)
  • Continual infections (sinus, kidney, eye, etc.)
  • Symptoms seem to change, come and go
  • Pain migrates (moves) to different body parts
  • Early on, experienced a “flu-like” illness, after which you have not since felt well.
  • Low body temperature
  • Allergies/Chemical sensitivities
  • Increased effect from alcohol and possible worse hangover

Symptoms are not limited to those listed however.

Symptoms are taken from the Australian Lyme Disease Association’s website here.

Currently the Australian Government fails to admit to the existence of Lyme Disease in Australia, basing their stance on a highly floored study published in 1994 that failed to find evidence of Borrelia in Australian ticks. Many other independent studies have found evidence of Lyme Disease in Australia including those listed on this page. Dr Mayne, a Lyme disease specialist from Sydney has published two studies providing evidence of Lyme Disease infections acquired in Australia here and here. Other reports can be found here and here. It is interesting to note that the Australian Veterinary industry is very open and honest about the fact that Lyme disease exists in Australia and in the animals they treat. The CSIRO even states on their website that Borreliosis is found in native Australian animals. Australia also has its own unique strain of Borrelia, Borrelia Queenslandica discovered in 1962. There is currently some serious work being done to create awareness of Lyme Disease in Australia so the suffering can be decreased. Unfortunately the government doesn’t seem very enthusiastic about admitting the pathogen exists here, likely due to the financial costs that it will incur when the truth is revealed. Currently most doctors are not trained to identify Lyme disease in Australia and there is very poor testing available. There is also no financial help for those suffering who are subject to extremely high medical costs. These problems alone will be costly to rectify when the government chooses to support the existence of Lyme Disease. Thankfully some amazing Lyme literate doctors in Australia are currently working on the Australian Lyme Disease treatment and diagnostic guidelines; awareness and support for sufferers.

Currently thousands of potential Lyme sufferers are sending their blood for testing to Lyme specialist labs in the United States and Europe. Because the bacteria is so difficult to culture the worlds top Lyme specialists currently favour the Western blot antibodies test by Igenex to test for the infection. There are other options available however. Helpful information on testing options can be found here and here.

Hopefully this post can help those suffering in the dark find answers if the above symptoms resonate with them.

Have you heard of Lyme Disease? Or know anyone with this condition?

I will follow on from this post with potential treatment options, particularly for when the illness is in the chronic stage. The majority of Lyme Disease cases in Australia are currently in the chronic stage because of misdiagnosis and ignorance.

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