Update: Lyme disease outbreak

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MONIQUE WRIGHT: What do you remember of what life was like before Lyme?

Brett Donnelly: Oh, I was just cruising through, I was having a great time, you know - family, friends, um, lovely house, lovely cars, all that kind of stuff and um, just so much to look forward to, you know. In fact, I'd love a pill to take me back three years and get it all back but you can't, you can't do that. Pain, indescribable pain. I just have a little pain, love. By the time you realise that you're actually sick, it's too late. It's corkscrewed into all your tissue, organs, your nerves, your brain. Everywhere, absolutely everywhere.

MONIQUE WRIGHT: So when you hear Australian health authorities say that Lyme disease does not exist within ticks here, how does that make you feel?

Brett Donnelly: Angry. Angry because they know, they know it's here, they just won't say it's here.

MONIQUE WRIGHT: Lyme disease was first identified more than three decades ago after an outbreak in a small village in the United States. Spread by the bite of a tick, it would be named after the town.

Dr Joe Burrascano: Lyme disease is a kind of infection that evolves in the person's body over time. It grows very slowly, it hides in the body, it evades the immune system, it evades the antibiotics. It goes to every single part of the body.

MONIQUE WRIGHT: And the reason Australians find it so hard to get help is because our health authorities say there's no evidence ticks here carry Lyme disease. Any Australian who has it, they say, probably caught it overseas.

Dr Jeremy McNulty: We do see occasional cases in people who have been overseas, who've acquired the infection overseas but to date, while it's possible Lyme disease is here and translated locally, we don't have a lot of evidence to support that.

Dr Joe Burrascano: It would be silly to think that Lyme is present in every part of the world but not Australia. Of course it is there, of course it is.

MONIQUE WRIGHT: Last week, we met Coffs Harbour mum Natalie Young, a National Parks ranger who was bitten by a swarm of ticks in 2002. So what do you think when you hear there's no way that ticks in Australia have got Lyme?

Natalie Young: It's ridiculous! I've had 300 ticks in a national park over a 7-year period. I think I might have got it from a tick, mmm, here in Australia. Good chance of it.

MONIQUE WRIGHT: Which brings us to Brett Donnelly.....a 51-year-old former computer programmer. His Lyme disease symptoms include memory problems.....long bouts of fatigue, and spasms combined with intense pain.

Jodie Donnelly: He was pretty much deteriorating, dying in front of my eyes. He was in so much pain and at one stage, he said that he was really scared that he thought he was dying and that nobody was helping him.

MONIQUE WRIGHT: Brett's wife Jodie made it her mission to find out what was wrong. She took leave from her job to search for answers. They went to more than two dozen doctors.

Brett Donnelly: I had infectious disease doctors saying that Lyme doesn't exist in Australia, I had paediatricians saying Lyme doesn't exist in Australia, the whole, all of medicine will tell you Lyme doesn't exist in Australia. They don't know.

Jodie Donnelly: It takes everything from you - it takes your health, your quality of life, um, your family, your finances, your career, your relationships, it just takes everything from you.

Brett Donnelly: You've met my two little granddaughters. They were the reason I kept going, because there's easier options than having to live through Lyme. The same with Jodie, like, every day, she, she...She fights to make sure that they don't suffer.

MONIQUE WRIGHT: Eventually, two doctors - one in the US and the other in Australia - separately diagnosed Brett with Lyme disease. He's now being treated with antibiotics.

MONIQUE WRIGHT: The big point about this is you have never been out of the country. You don't own a passport.

Brett Donnelly: Never had a passport, no, never been out of Australia.

MONIQUE WRIGHT: So when you hear Australian health authorities say that Lyme disease does not exist within ticks here, how does that make you feel?

Brett Donnelly: To the general public, they can explain things like that away, do you know what I mean? Like, people that don't know. You know, it's just, again, explained away, um...


Brett Donnelly: Yeah, all good, thanks. Sort of.


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