Tick to Aus­tralian Lyme link

Southern Gazette (South Perth) - - NEWS - Josh Zimmerman

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.

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