Researchers closer to ending debate around Lyme disease and ticks in Australia

June 29, 2015

A trigutattum tick by Peter Irwin square small

As debate surrounding whether Lyme disease is associated with tick bites in Australia continues to rage, a team of Murdoch University researchers, together with colleagues at the University of Sydney and Curtin University, have made a discovery that helps solve part of the puzzle.

The research has provided new information about the bacteria associated with the Australian paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus) and their potential to cause disease in people.

Lead researcher, Professor Peter Irwin of Murdoch University, has been collecting ticks from around Australia to study whether they carry disease-causing bacteria.

“We did not find any evidence of the Lyme disease-causing bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, but instead discovered a single isolate of a relapsing fever Borrelia, and other potential pathogens, including a new type of Neoehrlichia bacterium,” Professor Irwin said.

The relapsing fever Borrelia and other bacteria found could potentially cause symptoms consistent with Lyme-like disease including extreme fatigue and nausea, but more research is needed to confirm this.

The research was complicated by the fact that bacteria in ticks are masked by large amounts of a single endosymbiont (an organism which lives within other organisms).

“We developed a new method of blocking amplification of the endosymbiont, or abundant bacteria, to reveal potential pathogens,” Professor Irwin said.

“This research represents a new approach to what will be a challenging investigation to answer themost controversial and difficult of questions about which, if any, microorganisms transmitted by ticks cause illness in people in Australia.”

The research provides a clearer picture but will not put an end to debate regarding a link between Lyme disease and ticks in Australia.

“We are still a long-way from knowing what, if any, disease is transmitted by ticks in Australia,” Professor Irwin said.

“We need to test many more ticks yet.”

This research has received funding from the Australian Research Council and from Bayer Animal Health and Bayer Australia. The research results have been published in the journal Parasites and Vectors.

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Comments (4 responses)

Andrew June 29, 2015

Thanks for conducting this research. I hate these blood sucking arachnids with a perfect hatred. I bare many scars from these creatures and would love to read the outcome from this and future studies to put my mind at ease. Since this is preliminary what proportion of ticks are vectors for the Borrelia relapsing fever and “Candidatus Neoehrlichia” pathogen?

Mel June 30, 2015

What I don't understand is the severe lack of treatment available for sufferers in Australia.
Despite whether or not our ticks may have the bacteria, people with Lyme disease from countries with Lyme have MIGRATED here. So instead we just continue to ignore their debilitating illness and need for urgent medical aid? It's sickening!

Lily Oaks June 30, 2015

Oh, damn. I got excited there for a minute, that someone would make a statement that YES……. We have found Borrelia in Australia. Seems to me that nothing will be done for the thousands and thousands of people suffering from this debilitating illness. My life has come to a standstill, I have lost my job/income/ability to function due to this horrible disease, and still, men in suits will debate, debate, research, receive hefty paypackets, whilst us, the sufferers, suffer. Congratulations Dr Irwin and team for your discovery, and I pray that many more people do not become infected with Borrelia and the many nasty co-infections whilst you continue to research.

Kim Rhodes June 30, 2015

My Wife has been tested internationally and has Borrelia. She received her tick bite in the Harvey area of Western Australia 2 years ago. This area has a reasonable quantity wild dear now as a result of a 100 or so being release some years ago. Another friend got Lyme symptoms 20 years ago from tick bites Halls head Mandurah. The Bacteria would probably have been brought hear from England with the early convicts and passed down through generations. Many people are born with it. Lyme type symptoms where recorded in Europe in the early 19 hundreds. This disease is in Australia. Don't doubt it. I would like to talk more about it.

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