An investigation into the existence of Lyme disease across Australia will be debated in State Parliament before the end of the year with Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison calling for the government to consider recognition of the illness.
With the debate surrounding the controversial tick-borne illness gathering momentum, Ms Aitchison has moved a three-point motion imploring the government to listen to the plight of sufferers.
The motion notes community concern about the lack of recognition for Lyme disease in Australia (particularly in NSW) and calls on the NSW Health Minister to make representations to the federal government to investigate the possibility of recognising the illness.
It also acknowledges the hardship and plight of young Raworth woman Tahlia Smith and her lengthy battle with the disease.
“The government has tried to say Lyme disease doesn’t exist based on 20-year-old research, but clearly some people in our community have a disease which appears to be exactly the same as Lyme disease,” Ms Aitchison said.
“Borrowing an old adage, if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, then it might be time to recognise it as a duck. So, firstly, the government needs to recognise the disease so that people can get appropriate treatment.”
Ms Aitchison has also called for the government to reinstate the Clinical Advisory Committee on Lyme disease after it was abolished by the Abbott government late last year.
The committee, convened by the Health Department, concluded its work without being able to conclusively establish whether Lyme disease-causing bacteria was present in Australian ticks.
“If the government is going to say this isn’t Lyme disease then they need to tell us what this is and treat it appropriately,” Ms Aitchison said.
“If it is recognised here, then the treatments would be able to be delivered and funded in Australia rather than being something people have to seek overseas care for.”
The motion will come up for debate no later than November.
STILL NO PROOF . . . 33 YEARS LATER
According to the University of Sydney’s medical entomology department the first Australian cases of a syndrome consistent with Lyme disease were reported from the Hunter Valley region in 1982.
But despite the passing of 33 years, no one can prove or disprove the existence of the devastating bacteria in Australian ticks.
Since the disease was first recognised in 1975 Lyme disease has become the most frequently reported human tick-borne infection worldwide and has been identified in every continent, excluding the Antarctica.
Doubt remains whether it occurs in the southern hemisphere including Australia.
A paper written by Australian researchers Stephen Doggett, Richard Russell, Richard Lawrence and David Dickeson claims “the existence of Lyme disease in Australia will remain controversial until an organism is isolated from a local patient and fully characterised, or until a tick-borne organism can be shown to be responsible for human infection.”
“If it exists it shares few of the epidemiological or clinical characteristics of US or European patterns of Lyme disease,” the paper states.
Lyme disease 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.