The exact number of people with Lyme disease in Australia is not known because our public health officials do not collect statistics about it.
To change this situation, the Lyme Disease Association of Australia (LDAA) started to collect bi-annual statistics about the number of Australians with Lyme disease and their experiences in 2011.
Some evidence of the prevalence and geographic distribution of emerging Australian Lyme is reported in scientific literature (525 cases). Despite the reports of people suffering serious illness following tick bite, many of the case reports are dismissed. [i]
The data indicates that this illness is non-discriminatory. It can affect anyone in major cities, urban, regional, rural and remote locations. Using the Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) Volume 5 – Remoteness Structure classifications, the data shows that 33 percent of patients with Australian Lyme live in regional, and remote areas of Australia as presented in Table 1.
Table 1: Location of Australians reporting Australian Lyme symptoms by Remoteness Area Classification
|Very Remote |
N=2581 number of Australians reporting Australian Lyme symptoms to the LDAA as at December 2017
Internationally, the incidence of Lyme disease is on the rise. The US recently updated its surveillance figures by 900% estimating more than 300,000 new cases per year. [ii] The LDAA also tracks and reports on prevalence rates from 39 other countries; this data shows a mean global prevalence of 5.8 percent. [iii] As such, it seems highly implausible that Australia is the only continent without this disease.
If Australia were to use a similar prevalence rate to that reported in the US, over the past 20 years there may be up to 496,153  Australians who’ve acquired Australian Lyme. In 2019, that equates to almost 24,000 cases annually.
This is more cases than breast cancer and 20 times more than the reported cases of HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis (MS). These numbers likely underestimate the true incidence of Lyme and associated illness in Australia given a lack of appropriately trained medical practitioners, and unreliable diagnostics.
Australia could be looking at a large-scale undiagnosed epidemic which echoes the rising prevalence rates in other parts of the world. An official study of the prevalence and incidence of Lyme in Australia is well overdue.
[i] Chalada MJ, Stenos J, Bradbury RS. Is there a Lyme-like disease in Australia? Summary of the findings to date. One Health, 2016: 42-54 [ii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US). Lyme Disease Data and Surveillance [Internet]: 5 February 2019. [iii] Lyme Disease Association of Australia, A patient perspective: Submission to the Senate Inquiry on the Growing Evidence of an Emerging tick-borne disease that causes a Lyme-like illness for many Australian patients, Submission 528  Estimated 0.09% incidence pa x ABS Population statistics cumulated yearly since 1994
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