Researchers call for new studies into tick-borne disease in Australia

November 4, 2016

Professor Peter Irwin has called for urgent research funding

Professor Peter Irwin has called for urgent funding to support research into tick-borne disease

A Senate inquiry has heard an increasing number of Australians say they are experiencing symptoms of Lyme disease, leading to calls from researchers for crucial funding into additional research.

The Vector & Water-borne Pathogen Research Group (VWBPRG) at Murdoch University, together with researchers partners from the universities of Sydney and Queensland, were awarded a three-year Australia Research Council Linkage grant entitled “Tiresome ticks: Ecology and transmission of tick-borne disease in Australia” to help address the national concerns to tick-borne disease.

Professor Peter Irwin from Murdoch’s VWBPRG told the Senate committee further funding for research into tick-borne disease in Australia is urgently needed.

“This type of research is costly and there is much that needs to be done,” said Professor Irwin.

“The next logical step in tick-borne pathogen research, in parallel with ongoing discovery of new organisms – is to determine which, if any, of the organisms found in Australian ticks can be transmitted to mammalian hosts, particularly human.

“This surely is the first step in determining disease causation.”

To date, the VWBPRG has investigated the bacteria residing inside Australian ticks – mainly the Australian Paralysis Tick and the Kangaroo Tick – as both are quite frequently associated with bites on humans, but are also building up a picture of the bacterial species inside numerous other ticks in Australia.

Dr Charlotte Oskam from the VWBPRG discovered a new species of Borrelia in echidna ticks, which is unique to Australia.

“Our work with the Borrelia has confirmed that it is a unique Australian species,” Professor Irwin added.

“Our conclusion, based on the evidence so far, is that Australian ticks harbour a relatively unique set of bacteria and therefore these are unknown to medical science in terms of their capacity to cause disease.

“We have not yet extensively studied viruses or protozoa in our ticks, but it seems likely that a similar situation will be discovered with them.”

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