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Lyme Disease and Paralysis Ticks

This article appears courtesy of
Dr Ken Mason

Current Studies

Dr Ken Mason, Managing Director, Dermcare-Vet , is collecting live paralysis ticks for ongoing research into the role of their toxin in canine lungs. 

Researchers at Murdoch University are examining ticks of all species for ground breaking research of a public health concern. Associate Professor Peter Irwin and colleagues are investigating the use of molecular diagnostic techniques to determine whether infections such as Babesiosis and Borreliosis (Lyme’s disease) could be carried by Australian ticks. 

Ticks are a Public Health Concern

In Australia, there is much community concern, yet concurrent medical uncertainty, regarding the distribution and even occurrence of tick borne pathogens such as bacteria, rickettsiae and protozoa.

Lyme disease is a tick borne infection caused by bacteria belonging to the genus Borrelia. 

Lyme Disease: The Great Imitator

The Lyme Disease Association of Australia believes upwards of 10,000 people currently have the disease. Described as the great imitator, symptoms of Lyme disease often mimic other disorders such as:

Anecdotally, a significant number of these patients have shown a response to treatment with high doses of antibiotics. In all likelihood, many more patients remain undiagnosed and therefore untreated.

Unfortunately, the majority of doctors and government health departments do not yet acknowledge that Lyme disease even exists in Australia, leaving many people floundering with ongoing debilitating symptoms and concerned GP’s ostracised.

For more information read the fascinating articles on the ABC website after entering "Lyme disease" in the search box.

So why is there such a disparity in opinion?  The official line is that there is no evidence to date that Australian ticks carry Borrelia.  Furthermore, diagnosis is unreliable as the bacteria is extremely difficult to culture and blood test results are based on overseas species.

An understandable reluctance by the medical profession to administer long term antibiotics for a disease that has not yet been definitively diagnosed in Australia may be having a devastating impact on the health of many.  However, if caught early, Borreliosis and Lyme disease can be successfully treated with a short course of antibiotics. 

The research being conducted by Associate Professor Peter Irwin and his team at Murdoch University aims to determine definitively whether Lyme disease inducing Borrelia (amongst other infections) is present in Australian ticks and if so, where.  The public health ramifications of this research are clearly enormous.

A Shared Interest in Public Health Matters

Dr Mason’s interest in tick-borne pathogens was piqued by a seemingly recurrent theme being described in the literature; i.e. a temporary response to antibiotics.

In a touching article on the subject, professor of veterinary medicine and director of the Intracellular Pathogens Research Laboratory, North Carolina, Dr Edward Breitschwerdt, shared the remarkable and insightful story of his own father who was admitted to hospital on more than one occasion with severe mental deterioration.  Dr Breitschwerdt noted that during the course of the illness, his father made several dramatic improvements following incidental antibiotics.

Click here to read the full the full article.

In a classic example of a “One health, One medicine” approach to diagnosis, Dr Breitschwerdt was provided with samples of his father’s blood and CSF for PCR analysis at his research facility.  Bartonella DNA (Amplicon) was repeatedly generated from these samples, and subsequently antibiotic therapy was commenced.  His father proceeded to make a steady recovery until 2 weeks post completion of the antibiotics, whereupon he relapsed and passed away soon thereafter due to complications.

Dr Breitschwerdt’s observations of his father’s illness and PCR findings support the presence of a novel Bartonella species, in conjunction with an as yet unidentified animal reservoir and arthropod vector.  Frightening really, given his father’s original diagnosis was Parkinson’s disease!  He even postulates the involvement of bacteraemic cats, further reiterating the urgent need for a “One health, One medicine” approach.


The investigation into zoonotic tick-borne diseases is proudly supported by Bayer Australia.  It has the potential to definitively solve the mystery of Lyme disease currently dividing the Australian medical community, whilst simultaneously improving the health and wellbeing of thousands.