Lyme disease, otherwise known as borreliosis, is a bacterial infection carried by ticks. Humans can be infected by a tick bite. The disease is a growing epidemic, particularly in North America, Europe and Australia.
Dr Dobie is a member of the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS), international organisation of doctors who treat Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is named after the town of Lyme, in Connecticut, USA, where the illness was first recognised. Lyme disease is most prevalent in north-eastern USA and eastern Europe, but cases have been recorded on every continent.
Dr Dobie has treated approximately 500 cases of Lyme disease. Of the cases he has treated, 60% acquired the illness in another country, and 40% appear to have acquired the illness in Australia.
There is now abundant evidence that Lyme disease can be acquired in Australia, and it is possible that there are many thousands of undiagnosed cases in this country.
Early symptoms of Lyme disease, occurring in the first two or three weeks after a tick bite, can include a skin rash (called a “bull’s–eye” rash), flu-like symptoms, joint pains, swollen lymph nodes, fever and headache.
If left untreated Lyme disease can develop into a chronic infection with a wide variety of symptoms affecting every organ system, including the heart and brain. Chronic Lyme disease can mimic the symptoms of many other illnesses.
Lyme disease is diagnosed primarily on the basis of a patient’s symptoms, as the infection does not always show up on blood tests.
Lyme disease is controversial for many reasons. One reason for the controversy relates to the type of blood tests used. The test done for Lyme disease by most Australian laboratories, known as the ELISA test, is not sensitive enough to detect most cases of this illness.
Testing for Lyme disease should be done at a specialised laboratory.
Because Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, the main treatment is antibiotics. Sometimes the antibiotics need to be given intravenously.
Many patients with Lyme disease have what is known as “co-infections”. This is because ticks often carry other infections in addition to the Borrelia bacteria that cause Lyme disease. These “co-infections” include Babesia, Bartonella, Rickettsia, Ehrlichia and Mycoplasma. Antibiotic treatment needs to cover these infections as well as the Lyme disease.
Dr Dobie’s approach to treating Lyme disease includes
- nutritional supplements
- dietary advice
- herbal medicines (in some cases)