Bacteria search goes on

Professor Irwin has tested more than 400 WA dogs in his research.
Professor Irwin has tested more than 400 WA dogs in his research.

In a watershed development for the recognition of Lyme disease in this country, the Australian Government Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Baggoley, has established a clinical advisory committee to provide him with advice on the evidence, testing, treatment and research for Lyme disease.

It met for the first time in March and next week Murdoch University Small Animal and Biomedical Sciences Medicine Professor Peter Irwin will report to the committee on the findings of his research into ticks and the bacteria they spread, including Lyme (Borrelia burgdorferi) disease found in North America, Europe and Asia.

Last week, Prof Irwin told the Times there was very little, if any, evidence yet that Borrelia existed in Australia despite many diagnoses of Lyme.

‘Medical authorities don’t recognise it because the scientific evidence is so flimsy. It’s a very complicated, highly controversial issue from diagnosis to testing and treatment,’ he said.

He has received a Commonwealth Government grant of more than $500,000 to test over the next three years as many as 4000 ticks from throughout Australia for signs of evidence that they carry the Borrelia pathogen or babesiosis.

In 2012, he and Murdoch research partner Andrea Paparini identified for the first time in Australia in a Canberra man, the tick-borne disease babesiosis, with the results published in the Medical Journal of Australia last March ” both babesiosis and Borrelia bacteria are carried by ticks found to have infected dogs and people overseas.

Prof Irwin said it was clear a lot of people in Australia were very ill with a vector-borne disease and they needed to be provided with answers.

One of these could be that Australian ticks carry a still undiscovered bacteria that also cause Lyme-like symptoms, possibly from the same family as Borrelia.

In the past two years, Prof Irwin has tested more than 400 WA dogs for evidence of Borrelia with no luck. But the search is on.