Tick to Australian Lyme link
IT is plausible that Australian ticks harbour bacteria that cause Lyme disease-like symptoms.
That is the conclusion of Murdoch University researcher Peter Irwin, who has spent the past three years scouring the nation’s ticks for any sign of Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium associated with Lyme disease in America and Europe.
While Dr Irwin’s search for that particular bacterium has proved fruitless, his team of researchers have uncovered bacteria with a similar genetic makeup to Borrelia burgdorferi.
“Lyme disease is caused by one particular type of bacteria and we have found no evidence of that type of bacterium in any of the Australian ticks that we have tested,” he said.
“However, we have found many other bacteria and it is certainly plausible that some of them cause people to get ill.
“We can even go so far as to think it is likely because some bacteria we have found is very close to bacteria discovered overseas that is linked to Lyme disease.”
While conceding an as-yet undefined tickborne disease may be present in Australia, Dr Irwin cautioned that until further research and clinical testing was conducted any possible link remained “in the realm of supposition”.
“This is where it begins to get murky. The multi-million dollar question is whether or not those bacteria can cause illness in people in Australia,” he said.
Dr Irwin said he was working with doctors to develop studies that would ascertain whether the bacteria his team had found in ticks was also present in people.
“It is quite complicated research to conduct but that is where the work has to go. I think over the next five or so years, a lot more work will occur in this area as people begin picking up on our results,” he said.
Peter Irwin is also a registered specialist in canine medicine.