Dr Peter Irwin plans to test 500 pet dogs to find out if Lyme disease – which is not officially recognised in Australia – does exist after a number of people in Sydney and northern New South Wales were diagnosed with the disease by only a handful of doctors.
Lyme disease is an infection of humans and dogs that is caused by Borrelia bacteria usually transmitted to humans via the bite of an infected tick. If untreated it can cause chronic fatigue, skin conditions, aches and pains and also affect the brain and heart.
Dr Irwin, who is heading up the study, said that in areas where Lyme disease is endemic and recognised, such as parts of Northern America, Europe and Asia, dogs are also often infected by the same bacteria.
“It’s assumed that because we don’t have the same ticks as in the northern hemisphere, we don’t have Borrelia but we may have an organism that is related and causes Lyme like symptoms,” he said.
Dr Irwin will test dogs from eastern coastal Australia where the climate is perfect for ticks.
“We’ll be testing infected patients’ dogs as well as dogs in areas along the eastern seaboard where conditions are ripe but Lyme has not been found,” he said.
“If I don’t find evidence of infection in dogs, then it will suggest that these people who have been diagnosed with Lyme may have something else”.
Dr Irwin said a lack of diagnostic services for Lyme in Australia means the disease is nearly impossible to detect accurately.
“It’s difficult to diagnose Lyme because there’s no single definitive blood test you can do. There are loads of tests which give bits of an answer but nothing conclusive. “
Dr Irwin is attending Dog Day by the Bay on Sunday September 25 at Rowland Reserve, Bayview. He is urging those who live in northern beaches area to bring their dogs down to the reserve between 10am and 3pm where he will be on hand to take blood samples.