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Lyme Disease

“There’s a certain percentage of people who have neurodegenerative disease like motor neuron disease, MS, Alzheimer’s, autism and chronic fatigue, who actually have Lyme” says Dr McManus from the Karl McManus Foundation.

Lyme Disease is just one of many vector-borne illnesses that is spread by stinging and biting insects.  Vectors are generally considered to include mosquitos, ticks, fleas and spiders.  However, anything (or anyone) that can carry and transmit a bacteria, virus or parasite is a vector.

In recent months there has been much more awareness of Lyme Disease in Australia although its presence is still largely disputed by the medical profession.  This has lead to some confusion which I hope to clarify.

What is Lyme Disease?Lyme Disease or Borreliosis

Lyme disease is a blanket term given to an infection caused by one of 75 different Borrelia bacteria.  The most well-known is Borrelia burgdorferi.  Other bacteria include Babesia, Bartonella, Erlichia with Rickettsial viruses often also found as a co-infection.

The initial sign may be a bulls-eye red rash around the bite (35% of cases) along with fever, aches and generalised pain.  Further symptoms of Lyme disease include:

  • fatigue, night sweats, hot flushes/chills/low grade fevers, sore throats, stiff neck, joint pain and stiffness, muscle pain, chest pain and heart palpitations, abdominal pain, nausea diarrhoea, sleep disturbances, poor concentration and memory loss, irritability and mood swings, eye pain, jaw pin, testicular/pelvic pain, irritable bladder, tinnitus, vertigo, depression, back pain, blurred vision, cranial nerve disturbance (facial numbness, pain, tingling, palsy or optic neuritis).

As you can see the list of possible symptoms is extensive but this doesn’t mean that anyone experiencing some of these has been infected.  Lyme Disease is known as the great immitator as it has multiple manifestations often making a correct diagnosis quite difficult.

The bacteria, known as spirochetes due to their spiral shape, are able to penetrate the brain and cause neurological and psychiatric symptoms.  Lyme Disease can be misdiagnosed as MS, Motor Neuron Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, lupus, Alzheimer’s disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and numerous psychiatric illnesses. 

Other infections are often found alongside Lyme Disease such as mycoplasma which has been associated with rheumatoid arthritis and other auto-immune conditions.  Another interesting association of Lyme infection is suddenly developing a red meat ‘allergy‘.

How do you know if you are infected?

Blood tests are not currently readily available in Australia.  Blood samples are often sent to the United States or Europe for testing, however, these are not 100% accurate.  Possibly because we have different species in Australia.  Generally whichever form of test is done, it comes with the warning that negative test results do not rule out Lyme.  Furthermore, Borrelias bore into tissue and cells and are not readily detectable in the blood.  Bacteria also have their own mechanisms of ‘hiding’ from detection – they cover themselves with a biofilm making them invisible to our body’s immune system but also to antibiotics.

What treatment options are there?

Generally, high dose antibiotics are prescribed over a longer period of time.  This brings with it the associated damage to our beneficial gut flora and may still not be fully effective. 

As a naturopath, I am also able to prescribe herbal and nutritional remedies to assist your body in eliminating the bacteria.  There are also natural treatments to break up the biofilm, thereby exposing the bacteria to treatment.

Other Vector Borne Illnesses

Previously not as common in Australia, many viruses are now more prevalent here.  This may be due to increased overseas travel or perhaps even that some of these infections, including Lyme Disease, are transmissable in body fluids – blood, saliva and semen.  These infectious agents are also able to cross the placenta.  Although often not acknowledged by many medical professionals, Lyme Disease is on the rise.  

Ross River Virus – arthralgia, fatigue, fever, myalgia, maculopapular rash

Barmah Forest Virus – pain, fatigue or no symptoms at all.

Murray Valley Encephalitis – symptoms may be mild or not noticeable but often include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhoea and muscle aches.  MVE is usually seen during heavy rain and flooding.

Dengue Fever – sudden high fever with a measles-like rash, increased skin sensitivity, fatigue, headache (especially behind the eyes), joint aches, muscle aches, nausea, swollen lymph nodes, vomiting

Malaria – it should be noted that vaccinations against malaria are not considered 100% effective in preventing an infection.  Symptoms include fever, chills, sweats, headaches, nausea and vomiting with possible development of more serious complications.  A tropical diseases specialist should be consulted if in doubt.

Schistosomiasis – this is a parasite spread by freshwater snails.  Infection is mostly found in people who have travelled to Africa, South America, Middle East, Caribbean and Asia.  Acute infections may involve a rash, fever, headache, myalgia, diarrhoea, respiratory symptoms while more chronic symptoms include abdominal pain, enlarged liver, blood in the stool or urine, problems passing urine, increased risk of cancer of the bladder, liver and gallbladder.