Doctor Charlotte Oskam is a lecturer in Anatomy at Murdoch University and the team leader of Murdoch’s Vector and Water-borne Pathogen Research Group.
In other words, she is an expert not only on ticks, but also the complex bacteria inside ticks that can make bite victims like Liam McCracken so sick.
She said that while Lyme Disease does not exist in Australia, something very similar does and her reasoning is based on firm science.
“Lyme Disease is caused by a bacterium, or a community of bacterium known as Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato and that’s a complex, there’s about 20 different Borrelia burgdorferi species that contribute towards Lyme Disease.
“So far what is known is that it is a tick-borne disease transmitted by ticks in the Northern hemisphere and to date, none of those ticks have been found in Australia.
“In addition, we haven’t found Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato or any of those species that cause Lyme Disease in Australian ticks.”
In the last two years, her team at Murdoch University have ramped up their research into Australian ticks and Dr Oskam believes they are on the verge of a major breakthrough.
“When we hear about Lyme-Like Disease, what that often refers to is people who are presenting with symptoms such as headaches, flu-like symptoms, muscular aches and pains that are similar to those with people that are diagnosed with Lyme Disease,” she said.
“The work that we’re currently doing is trying to understand the community of bugs or microbes that are found in Australian ticks, because if people are getting sick when they’re bitten by an Australian tick, then we need to have somewhat of an unbiased opinion about what it could be.
“What we use is Next Generation Sequencing and what we’ve found to date is bacteria that are related to those overseas that cause disease but are unique, and are unique to Australian ticks.
“What that means, we don’t actually know in regards to disease. That’s our next thing.”
Dr Oskam and her team are now undertaking a pilot program looking at people suffering from chronic tick-borne illnesses, program Liam McKracken’s mother Karon said he was enrolling in.
“One of the things we’re doing at the moment is we’ve got a pilot study looking at chronic tick-borne illness patients.
“We’re screening them so we can identify these potential pathogens in those patients.
“If we can start to understand what is being transmitted by ticks we can start putting the pieces of the puzzle together.”
Health Department at odds with Lyme doctor
Doctor Smith – not his real name – is one of the few WA doctors who believe Lyme Disease exists in Australia.
He spoke to Echo News on the basis we did not reveal his name, the name of his clinic or even the location of his clinic.
He has a long history of treating what he calls Lyme Disease in WA, and he described the medical and political situation surrounding Lyme Disease as farcical.
“The medical community in Australia is very conservative,” he said.
“The WA Health department are basically sitting on their thumbs, I’ve shown them my evidence, they said as soon as it was published in a peer reviewed medical journal they’ll do something. “
Dr Smith said that his view of the correct treatment procedure for Lyme and Lyme-like disease had changed in the last six months, and he was not surprised that more than one medical professional told Liam McCracken’s mother Karon it was all in Liam’s head.
“I used to think that if a tick bit you and you got a red mark and felt sick you should be treated with antibiotics, but in the last six months I treated a woman who got bitten and had no illness, nothing.
“Three months later she became ill and tested positive for Lyme Disease.
“My view now is that if you get bitten by a tick, you need a minimum of four weeks of fairly decent antibiotic treatment as soon as possible.
“The longer you leave it the harder it is to treat, generally.
“In Australia, it supposedly doesn’t exist and because it doesn’t exist we don’t need to look for it and because we don’t need to look for it we don’t need to test for it because it doesn’t exist, it’s a circular argument, it’s not scientific.
“A doctor saying it’s all in his head, that’s a very common story but the patients themselves know they’re sick.
“The patients who have got it end up with a very poor view of the medical profession, because basically the doctors are wrong. “
A WA Department of Health spokeswoman said there was no conclusive evidence Lyme Disease occurs in Australia, and certainly not Western Australia.
“As there is no evidence that Lyme disease occurs in Australia, and the risk of acquiring it overseas is very small, it is not notifiable to the WA Department of Health,” she said.
“The tests to diagnose Lyme disease are readily available in Australia but are technically complex and require specialist expertise.
“People concerned that they have an illness after suffering tick-bites in WA should talk to their doctor.”
“The doctor will make a clinical decision about the most appropriate testing, treatment or referral to an appropriate specialist, based on knowledge of conditions much more likely to occur in Australia.”
By Liam Ducey