The parliamentary inquiry into Lyme disease in Australia has got underway with a public hearing in Perth.
Lyme disease, also known as Lyme borreliosis, is a bacterial infection recognised in America and other parts of Europe and Asia, but there is no scientific evidence of its existence in Australia.
Nonetheless, Kate Daniels, from the Multiple Systemic Infectious Disease Syndrome group, told the inquiry that five people in Western Australia suffering from conditions similar to that of Lyme disease have taken their own lives in the past three years.
She said that people with Lyme-like symptoms were being discriminated against.
“We’ve become the lepers of the Australian medical profession,” ABC News reported. “Because no one wants to know about us, no one wants to treat us. … Doctors are too afraid to treat them because of the stigma.”
But Michael Gannon, WA president of the Australian Medical Association, said the parliamentary inquiry was a farce, the ABC reports.
“Patients with Lyme-like illnesses deserve our sympathy, they deserve appropriate treatment. But this inquiry is an unholy waste of money, the only possible recommendations from this parliamentary inquiry are more research, and that research is already being done.”
Senator John Madigan initiated the inquiry, with the brief of looking into “The growing evidence of an emerging tick-borne disease that causes a Lyme like illness for many Australian patients.”
To date, the inquiry has received close to 900 submissions.
Madigan said a large number of Australians were suffering and more needed to be done.
“Get on and do your job,” he said of the government health authorities.
“You’re supposed to be there to help people,” the ABC reported. “They’re sick, they’re not putting it on and if it’s not Lyme – what the hell is it?”
Murdoch University Professor Peter Irwin is examining whether a home-grown bacterium is responsible for Lyme-like symptoms in Australians.
“We have about 70 species of tick in Australia,” he told the ABC.
“We can find organisms in ticks, we can find DNA. But attributing disease causation to those bacteria is really another step all together.
He said more research was required. “It might be linking the types of bacteria you find in ticks with the types of bacteria in people,” he said. “Then you can start to close the circle.”
Other hearings for the inquiry will be in Brisbane, Canberra and Sydney (tbc). More information is available at the inquiry website.