New Borrelia bacteria species found in echidna ticks

17 June 2016

The discovery of a novel species of Borrelia bacteria in ticks on echidnas is exciting Lyme disease activists in Australia but whether it causes disease or not is so far unknown. 

Australia does not have Borrelia burgdorferi, the species of bacteria which causes Lyme disease in the US and Europe but does have 3 other kinds of borreliae.

Researchers at Perth’s Murdoch University have published the discovery of this previously unseen species, which is related to the relapsing fever, group of Borrelia, after identifying it in 38 out of 97 ticks pulled from echidnas.

Borrelia-specific testing confirmed the novel species in Bothriocroton concolor ticks found on echidnas in Queensland and NSW but not in those from Victoria.

Independent Senator John Madigan, who spearheaded a recent Senate inquiry into Lyme-like disease, says the discovery offers hope to the many Australians fighting debilitating illness and being ignored by health officials.

“This latest research suggests what many Australians have suspected and that is, that Australian ticks may be responsible for making thousands of Australians sick with a Lyme-like illness,” he says in a media statement.

The authors of the paper, from the university’s vector and water-borne pathogen research laboratory, say the potential of the novel species to be transmitted to humans is unknown.

However, they add that its presence in Australia is of “significant public health importance and warrants further investigations”.

The current study was prompted by the discovery of a novel Borrelia species in a single Ixodesholocyclus tick removed from an echidna last year.

Last Reviewed: 17 June 2016
Reproduced with kind permission from Medical Observer Weekly

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Rada Rouse

Rada Rouse

Rada is an award-winning medical journalist and a former president of the Australasian Medical Writers Association.