Discovery could help solve part of the Lyme disease-tick bite puzzle

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Researchers in Australia are working tirelessly to bring the debate surrounding whether Lyme disease is associated with tick bites to an end and though a conclusion is no where in sight, they have made a discovery that could help solve part of the puzzle.

A team of researchers from Murdoch University, University of Sydney and Curtin University have been collecting ticks from around Australia to study whether these insects are carrying the disease-carrying bacteria.

Though they didn’t find evidence of the Lyme disease-causing bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, the research has provided new information about the bacteria associated with the Australian paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus) and their potential to cause disease in people.

Lead researcher, Professor Peter Irwin of Murdoch University, revealed that they stumbled upon single isolate of a relapsing fever Borrelia, and other potential pathogens, including a new type of Neoehrlichia bacterium.

The relapsing fever Borrelia and other bacteria found could potentially cause symptoms consistent with Lyme-like disease including extreme fatigue and nausea, but more research is needed to confirm this.

The research was complicated by the fact that bacteria in ticks are masked by large amounts of a single endosymbiont (an organism which lives within other organisms).

“We developed a new method of blocking amplification of the endosymbiont, or abundant bacteria, to reveal potential pathogens,” Professor Irwin said.

“This research represents a new approach to what will be a challenging investigation to answer themost controversial and difficult of questions about which, if any, microorganisms transmitted by ticks cause illness in people in Australia.”

The research provides a clearer picture but will not put an end to debate regarding a link between Lyme disease and ticks in Australia.

“We are still a long-way from knowing what, if any, disease is transmitted by ticks in Australia,” Professor Irwin said.

“We need to test many more ticks yet.”