Left untreated, tick-borne disease can lead to chronic and debilitating illness


Monday, 23 January, 2017



Left untreated, tick-borne disease can lead to chronic and debilitating illness

The Commonwealth Senate enquiry report into tick-borne diseases has been released, highlighting the importance of awareness of tick-related illnesses in Australia. Worryingly, the committee heard that there could be as many as 50,000 people bitten by ticks in Australia each year.

Dr Mualla McManus, director of the Karl McManus Foundation and infectious disease researcher, said that confusion and mixed messages around tick-borne diseases can distract people from being vigilant on the issue.

“The recent federal Senate enquiry highlighted a range of competing views on the definitions of tick-borne diseases. However, the reality is that tick-borne diseases exist in Australia and ticks are more prevalent in the warmer spring and summer months,” said Dr McManus.

Tick-borne disease left untreated can lead to chronic and debilitating illness and cause issues with mobility, eyesight, cognitive impairment and overall wellbeing.

“There is ongoing debate and research among scientists, policymakers and healthcare professionals to determine exactly what tick-borne pathogens we have here in Australia,” said Dr McManus. “We are urging people to put that to the side. The best thing you can do is stay watchful and take some simple precautions to avoid being bitten. If you are bitten, stay alert to any indications of illness.

“Many people don’t connect the symptoms they are experiencing with being bitten by a tick. Because of this it may not be raised when they visit the doctor, which can lead to a misdiagnosis. So, it’s important to raise tick-bite experiences with your doctor even if some time has passed,” she said.

Often symptoms from a tick bite can be delayed (in some cases for up to a week or two later) and the patient will not flag the association when seeking medical attention. So it’s important to be aware of this issue and to raise this with patients exhibiting symptoms.

Tick-borne diseases can often present early flu-like symptoms such as tiredness, malaise, muscle aches and pains, and a stiff neck. But as pathogens disseminate, symptoms can become more intense and persistent affecting multiple systems in the body such as the CNS, CVS and the gut. For some people a bullseye rash can appear around the bite site.

For acute symptoms, doxycycline 100 mg twice a day is indicated. For neuroborreliosis presentation, IV antibiotics may be considered such as ceftriaxone. Non-specific symptoms can make clinical diagnosis difficult.

Left untreated, tick-borne disease can lead to chronic and debilitating illness and cause issues with mobility, eyesight, cognitive impairment and overall wellbeing so early detection and proper treatment is paramount to improving your patient’s health outcomes.

If a patient presents with a tick it should be removed properly and safely as soon as possible. The longer a tick feeds the greater the chance of infection from a tick-borne illness.

Further information about tick-borne diseases, symptoms and a handy pre-diagnosis questionnaire can be found at Karl McManus Foundation. Information on the two types of recommended tick removal (dependent on whether it is an adult/child patient and a single/multiple tick bite) is also available.

Content provided by Dr Mualla McManus
BSci(Hons) (Immunology), MSci(Haematology), B.Pharm, PhD ( Neuroscience)
Tick Borne Diseases Unit
School of Medical Sciences (Pharmacology)
University of Sydney
Director of Karl McManus Foundation

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