In 2016, Australian scientists writing in The Medical Journal of Australia concluded the following about Lyme disease in Australia:
- There is no convincing evidence that classic Lyme disease occurs in Australia, nor is there evidence that the causative agent, Borrelia burgdorferi, is found in Australian animals or ticks.
- Lyme disease, however, can be acquired overseas but diagnosed in Australia; most people presenting with laboratory-confirmed Lyme disease in Australia were infected in Europe.
- Despite the lack of evidence that Lyme disease can be acquired in Australia, growing numbers of patients, their supporters, and some politicians demand diagnoses and treatment according to the protocols of the “chronic Lyme disease” school of thought.
- Antibiotic therapy for chronic “Lyme disease-like illness” can cause harm to both the individual (eg, cannula-related intravenous sepsis) and the broader community (increased antimicrobial resistance rates).
- Until there is strong evidence from well performed clinical studies that bacteria present in Australia cause a chronic debilitating illness that responds to prolonged antibiotics, treating patients with “Lyme disease-like illness” with prolonged antibiotic therapy is unjustified, and is likely to do much more harm than good.
The number of false positive tests in an area like Australia, where there is no Lyme disease, is substantially larger than the number of true positives. In 2019, scientists found that the chance of a positive Lyme disease test in Australia being a true positive is under 4%.
The many demonstrably false claims of chronic Lyme disease in Australia show very well how chronic Lyme beliefs spread by word of mouth, the media, the Internet, and quacks.
Politicians get involved
A 2018 analysis of 698 submissions to a Senate inquiry in Australia found the following:
- The most common symptoms described were fatigue (62.6%), disordered thinking (51.9%) and sensory disturbance (46.1%).
- Respondents reported experiencing symptoms for a median of 10 years and spent a median of $30000 on diagnosis and treatment.
- Almost 10% of respondents self-diagnosed after being exposed to a media report of Australian Lyme disease.
The analysis concluded:
Patients diagnosed with Lyme disease in Australia display a symptomology similar to ‘medically unexplained physical symptoms’ syndromes, experience social and financial harms, and are at risk of nosocomial [health care facility caused] harms. Negative medical interactions and the media may contribute to patients seeking alternative and potentially non-evidence based diagnoses and treatments.
We hope that the outcome of the Government inquiry can be positive for those with medically unexplained physical symptoms. Surely there needs to be more research in this area.
See full article: “Chronic Lyme” patients probably poisoned
In 2018, Australian public health officials reported that 5 patients being treated for “chronic Lyme” were probably poisoned by contaminated intravenous glutathione. Intravenous glutathione has no known medical purpose and there is no reason to think it would be effective for Lyme disease, even for a real diagnosis.
At least one of the patients, a 41 year-old woman, also received likely fake diagnoses of coinfections Bartonella and Babesia. In chronic Lyme “support” groups, Bartonella is falsely believed to be a tick-borne disease and Lyme coinfection.
About 15 minutes into starting her IV glutathione, the woman started experiencing disturbing symptoms: “fever (39.5 °C), hypotension (BP 79/47), muscle twitches, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal, neck and back pain.” She went that day to the emergency department, which treated her with antibiotics for possible bacterial septicaemia.
As a result of the hospitalization and/or antibiotics, the woman developed Clostridium difficile associated diarrhoea. C. diff is a dangerous consequence of unnecessary antibiotic treatments associated with chronic Lyme diagnoses.
Fundraising for quackery
People convinced that they have chronic Lyme and coinfections typically spend enormous amounts of money on quackery. Australians may even be convinced to travel to shady clinics abroad for treatment.
On November 1, 2016, The Courier-Mail wrote about the proliferation of fundraisers for purported Lyme disease. The Courier-Mail documented 125 GoFundMe fundraisers raising $800,000AUD since the site began in 2010. 60 of the fundraisers—raising $260,000AUD—had taken place in the past year.
Writing about dubious fundraisers, including those for chronic Lyme disease, Dr. David Robert Grimes concluded:
The depressing conclusion is that although the urge to help those suffering is laudable, the truth is that promises of miracle cures should be viewed with extreme scepticism. Raising money for such causes does not help sufferers one iota – it benefits only those with the audacity to push false hope at great expense.
Protecting the public
Authorities in Australia have investigated and/or disciplined general practitioners who diverge from established science-based standards of care in the diagnosis or treatment of Lyme disease. These practitioners include:
Tania Ash, Andrew Ladhams, and Peter Mayne have each been associated with the pseudoscience advocacy group ILADS.
Clear statement from the Government of Australia
In a June 2018 position statement, the Australian Government Department of Health emphasized:
Some Australians and healthcare providers believe that classical Lyme disease can be acquired from ticks in Australia, or that a form of ‘chronic Lyme disease’ exists. Globally, ‘chronic Lyme disease’ is a disputed diagnosis which lacks sufficient supporting evidence.
The Australian Government cannot support the diagnosis of locally acquired classical Lyme disease in Australia without the causative organism or a competent vector being identified in Australia. However, the Australian Government does recognise that a group of patients are experiencing debilitating symptom complexes that some patients attribute to ticks and is taking steps to address this issue.
Government of Australia
- General Lyme disease index
- Position statement: Lyme disease in Australia
- Position statement: Debilitating Symptom Complexes Attributed to Ticks
- Office of Health Protection of the Australian Department of Health: An Australian guideline on the diagnosis of overseas acquired Lyme Disease/Borreliosis
- Statement from Australia’s Chief Medical Officer
- Dr Brad McKay: Why thousands of Aussies claim to have Lyme disease
- Lyme disease: Five people with symptoms suicided in WA in past three years, inquiry hears
- Lyme disease does not exist in Australia, researchers say
- The Courier-Mail: Australians who claim to suffer Lyme disease send a spike in crowdfunding, 2016-11-01
- Does Lyme disease exist in Australia?
- Is there a Lyme-like disease in Australia? Summary of the findings to date
- Beaman MH. Lyme disease: why the controversy?. Intern Med J. 2016;46(12):1370-1375.
- Brown JD. A Description of ‘Australian Lyme Disease’ Epidemiology and Impact: An Analysis of Submissions to an Australian Senate Inquiry. Intern Med J. 2018;48(4):422-426.
- Searching for Lyme borreliosis in Australia: results of a canine sentinel study
- The Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia Position Statement: Diagnostic Laboratory testing for Borreliosis (‘Lyme Disease’ or similar syndromes) in Australia and New Zealand
- Johnstone T, Quinn E, Tobin S, et al. Seven cases of probable endotoxin poisoning related to contaminated glutathione infusions. Epidemiol Infect. 2018:1-4.
- Lum GD, et al. An Australian guideline on the diagnosis of overseas-acquired Lyme disease/borreliosis. Commun Dis Intell Q Rep. 2015;39(4):E590-6.
- Best SJ, et al. Investigation of the performance of serological assays used for Lyme disease testing in Australia. PLoS ONE. 2019;14(4).