Lyme: a four letter word
Excerpted from the ABC Australia Network: (01/05/2014)
Lyme testing is hotly contested. Most tests check for antibodies to the bacteria. Australian tests looks for antibodies to the two main Borrelia species found overseas.
Lyme treating doctors say if a patient is infected with a local Borrelia species, it won’t show up on Australian tests. But it might on the US ones which claim to be more sensitive. Patients also say their immune systems are not working properly. So they may not produce enough antibodies to show up in anything but the most sensitive test.
A growing number of Australian GPs are risking their professional reputations by diagnosing patients with Lyme disease.
Health authorities say there’s no evidence that Australian ticks carry the Lyme bacteria, and are worried that doctors are being misled by unproven claims about this controversial disease.
Yet GPs say they are seeing patients with Lyme symptoms.
A recent conference organised by a Lyme advocacy group attracted more health professionals than even organisers expected. Thirty-three GPs attended from around Australia, joined by physios, nurses and naturopaths.
A Melbourne GP, Geoffrey Kemp, says he has 55 patients with Lyme disease, or what he calls a Lyme-like disease. Dr Julian Northover from Sydney’s northern beaches said he’d seen five patients with Lyme symptoms in the last 12 months. And from Woombye on the Sunshine Coast, Dr Sandeep Gupta said he has patients with severe ongoing syndromes that don’t fit with any other disease.
There are 18 different species of the Borrelia bacteria that cause Lyme disease. The bacteria have been found on all continents bar Australia and the Antarctic.
It was named after the US town of Lyme, Connecticut, where a country GP questioned an unusual cluster of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. It was later proved to be caused by a bacterial infection.
Advocacy groups say Australia may also have its own unique Borrelia species, or overseas Lyme bacteria may have been brought here by migratory birds. There are also claims that the Lyme bacteria could be the cause of chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis or even Alzheimer’s. (Editor: Or that some people diagnosed with a chronic condition may actually have Lyme.)
But the medical establishment says there is simply no evidence to back up these claims.
Infectious diseases specialists warn that the medical evidence around Lyme disease is being undermined, that shoddy research and unproven claims are enveloping Lyme ‘in a parallel universe of pseudoscience’.
In response, Lyme groups say there is good clinical evidence to challenge the mainstream view, and Lyme disease is a far greater health threat than is acknowledged.