Australians flock to overseas Lyme disease treatment

Thousands of Australians are suffering from Lyme Disease and being diagnosed in overseas labs, despite the government insisting can't be contracted here.

Maddie Bridgman, 25, told Sunday Night she had been told her symptoms of seizures and fatigue were mental, before testing positive for Lyme.

She first noticed the health problems in the lead-up to her wedding, she began having seizures doctor's couldn’t explain.

On their honeymoon she was hospitalized and soon, couldn’t use her legs.

"I was having 11 seizures a day and some of them would last about 10 minutes. I had to stop uni, I had to stop going to work. I couldn’t socialise."

"You feel like you are worthless because you are the one causing all these problems for yourself like you are making this up, you are being a drain on hospitals."

Maddie saw a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a neurologist but with no discernable cause she was told her illness was psychological.

"It’s hard to have a nurse yell at your wife and say you are making this up stop shaking when you know that there is something wrong, you know that it’s not all in her head," husband Dean said.

Dr Richard Schloeffel is one of the few doctors in Australia who believes not only that thousands of Australians have Lyme disease, but that many of them caught it here.

He treated Maddie in May last year and sent her blood to a specialist lab in the US.

It tested positive for Lyme.

" Lyme disease really is a collection of infections, not just one infection and you will probably get originally a tick bite but it can be anything that bites," Dr Schloeffel said.

"We think in Australia it could be March flies and midges as well but definitely tick bites".

Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria called borellia.

It is transferred into the bloodstream when bitten by an insect carrier.

"It basically vomits this stuff out into your blood stream and then sucks out your blood to fill itself, falls off and breeds so it’s part of its breeding cycle."

The result is an attack on the body that presents in as many as 150 different symptoms, making it hard to diagnose correctly.

The diagnosis was a relief and new hurdle for Maddie, who says she had been bitten by ticks many times growing up near the bush.

In Australia even if you test positive for Lyme Disease - Medicare only covers the first two weeks of antibiotic treatment which for many patients can last for months.

But microbiologist Dr Stephen Graves was a member of the federal government's expert panel, which recently reported no ticks in Australia has tested positive for Lyme disease.

"Well I have heard of many people who believe they’ve got Lyme Disease but at this point of time I don’t know of one genuine case that has been acquired in Australia," Dr Graves said.

"I’m not saying they’re not sick they clearly are sick some of them are very very sick all I’m saying is that we don’t think they’ve got Lyme disease."

The treatment at the St George Clinic the Bavarian Alps, which has become popular with Australian patients, is called hyperthermia.

Dr Frederich Douwes made the chance discovery that raising the body temperature kills Lyme disease bacteria when he was working with cancer patients.

The hyperthermia treatment takes place in a temperature-controlled tent.
The hyperthermia treatment takes place in a temperature-controlled tent.

However, there are no scientific studies to prove the expensive treatment works but Australian's are lining up to try it.

Maddie and Dean tried the treatment after rounds of antibiotics failed — the whole trip costing them 55,000 — and found success.

"I am feeling fantastic," Maddie said.

"Just giving me my independence back that’s what it has done for me that’s what I am more grateful for than anything. "

Want to know more about Lyme disease? Visit the Lyme Disease Association of Australia website

For more information about the St George Clinic, visit their website.

To contact Dr Schloeffel, visit the Pymble Grove health centre website.