Is Lyme disease still a four letter word?

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Dr Leong Ng discusses the controversial issue of Lyme disease and its suppression by Australian authorities.

LYME DISEASE is older than recorded history.

The Swiss "iceman" Ötzi had it, so it is not inconceivable that most of the world may have had the opportunity to contract it later. DNA studies have confirmed the presence of the causative agent of Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi sensulato, in Ötzi’s remains. 

Those who believe in the scientifically proven continental drift will certainly understand that Lyme, or Lyme-like disease may have existed with Lake Mungo's Mungo Man.

Was the Mungo Man’s arthritis due to Lyme or its equivalent, Lyme-like disease? Perhaps his bony remains may give us some answers. Mungo Man also suggests that authorities who wish to distort or bury the truth are eventually discovered — even 50,000 years later.

One armchair view is published in the not-so-independent Medical Journal of Australia. Another contemporary scientific view exists in The Conversation.

Australian Senate Inquiry

In the United States, Raphael B. Stricker and Lorraine Johnson wrote that the concern for an established international epidemic of Lyme disease is serious and that some form of world leadership is needed using international standards (not Australian standards) to manage the disease and continue its research.

Clinical research into therapies is underway, including the use of innovations like stem cell therapies and hyperthermia. This is echoed in the testimony of Dr Richard Horowitz in the recently concluded Senate Inquiry before the Australian Parliament.

Distantly linked are the recent Senate Inquiry on Medical Complaints Process in Australia and the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry — the common themes being "commercial interests" and "bullying".

In my work within Indigenous health centres nationwide, I have seen enough chronic disease casually ascribed by authorities to the "lifestyle" of Indigenous peoples, without asking deeper questions.

It is possible that many people with chronic diseases – especially Indigenous peoples – may be suffering from a chronic form of Lyme disease, which is denied by "experts".

The mystery of Lyme disease

In medical history, syphilis and tuberculosis enjoyed their past reigns as "kings" of the diseases. This was during the pre-antibiotic era; the first penicillin clinical trials only took place during WWII in the UK.

Therefore, the natural history of these diseases are well known and documented, and living sufferers were medical curiosities for teaching and learning purposes. Wartime London was a gold mine for this and many doctors flocked there from all over the world for their postgraduate studies. These included Australian doctors.

Interestingly, organisms from the same family of "spirochaetes" cause also syphilis, leprosy, tuberculosis, yaws and Lyme disease.

Lyme-literate health workers

In the United States, the persecution of Lyme-treating health professionals included that of Dr Raphael (Ray) Stricker who treated celebrity novelist Amy Tan for Lyme disease.

Debate has been intense and has reached the highest authorities.

In Canada, the Lyme Disease Bill 2014 was passed and outlines the number of celebrities who have publicly disclosed their Lyme disease, though criticism by the establishment continues.

Back home in Australia, the Senate Inquiry into Lyme and Lyme-Like Disease, was completed just before the double dissolution and shows hope of some open-mindedness.

Why authorities deny that Lyme disease exists in Australia

One or a combination of several conspiracy theories may hold some truth. These are all linked by financial threads and "conflicts of interest".

  • Chronic disease is big business for the medical profession and for the pharmaceutical industry. It affects both specialist groups and general practice. The label itself creates shudders for insurance companies. The notion of curing someone with “chronic Lyme” is compassionate – and heroic – but it needs the proof of science. However, it conflicts with commerce icluding the health professions.
  • Indeed, it may be a form of psychological false imprisonment. Those who get "rescued" from chronic disease and who may have the good fortune of not entering into the mental health pathway may actually regroup and bite in a class action.
  • The livestock-export industry has always enjoyed premium prices. Possible Lyme-disease carrying, tick-tainted animals would not enjoy that premium in export sales in the future. 

Does this denial appear to protect or harm the government?

The real question to ask is this: does recognising and treating Lyme disease incur a greater expense than saving taxpayer dollars by denying it? 

Denying the existence of Lyme disease appears to protect the government and its coffers, while not denying it opens up a can of worms if hypotheses are proven.

The absence of evidence for a phenomenon does not truly mean that the phenomenon is absent. On the contrary, it may well exist and flawed arguments are touted to justify its suppression.

On the other hand, false evidence confirms and propagates the notion it is alive, and offers some hope and closure to those who are suffering, with scientific truths being relegated to "pseudo-science”.

The evidence generated by the recent Senate Inquiry certainly supports the fact that Lyme disease exists in Australia but is “imported”. In my view, the question of whether it is imported or native to Australia would be best determined by starting with Mungo Man.

The jury is out and “experts” who argue that it does not exist in the indigenous form are only closing the door on an important practical question, and stifling research and treatment of this condition. Subtle vested interests may also be playing an important part.

Disclosure: During 2016, Dr Ng spent three months as a consultant physician with Dr Geoff Kemp, a GP who diagnosed and managed Lyme disease in Melbourne prior to the recently completed Senate Inquiry.

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