Lyme toddler

Reporter: Mark Gibson

This single photo is proof that Lyme disease is being contracted in W.A. Trey Westlake is just three years old. The youngest known West Australian with Lyme Disease. Trey lives at Newdegate, a farming community 400 kilometres south-east of Perth. Last September, Trey was bitten by a tick..his Mum took a photo while the tick was still in his head. "Two weeks later he fell very very sick with vomiting, sweats, 40 degree plus temperature, very lethargic, fatigued, achy."

Trey's worried Mum Kelly was told by a doctor that it was probably the flu. "Probably about another fortnight after that he came out with lesions all over his body, they were blister like to start with and then once they sort of erupted they became big aggressive looking sores." Kelly had a very sick little boy and no answers, until she saw Today Tonight.

With Australian health authorities denying the existence of Lyme Disease, Trey's blood was sent to the United States for testing. Just last week, the results came back - positive to Lyme Disease and a serious co-infection called Babessiosis.

Closely linked to Lyme Disease, babessiosis is a new infection that's already killed a 56 year old man from New South Wales. "They can become anoemic where their blood cells get destroyed, their platelets in their blood get destroyed and multiple organs can go into failure and people can die."

Our exclusive investigation into Lyme Disease has uncovered at least two West Australians who swear they contracted the illness here. Theda Myint has been sick for 12 years, but only recently tested positive to Lyme. "I was not bitten overseas that I can remember and there are people that haven't been overseas who are testing positive and that's incontrovertible."

Rosemary Hearle contracted Lyme 30 years ago. She flew to the U.S. to be tested.. after getting the runaround by doctors here. "It saved my life, I was so lucky that I went over there." Now, the latest victim.. 3 year old Trey Westlake, who's still waiting to start treatment.

This surely is the most compelling evidence yet that Lyme Disease is here. Now we have a 3 year old boy from the country who's clearly never travelled with photographic evidence of a tick bite and a positive test for Lyme.

So, we asked the WA Health Department why it continues to deny Lyme's existence.

"If aware of appropriate evidence to support the presence of Lyme Disease in WA (the department) would notify the population. It is important that unsubstantiated claims of the discovery of a new disease do not result in unnecessary alarm."

Further Details

LYME DISEASE

Our latest report concerns a 3 year old W.A. boy, bitten by a tick late last year, who now has tested positive to Lyme Disease.

We put a series of questions to the W.A. Health Department. Here is their full response:

How can the Health Department continue to deny that Lyme Disease is being contracted in Western Australia, when there is mounting evidence to the contrary?

To confirm the presence of a disease people must have consistent clinical presentations together with laboratory confirmation. The laboratory diagnosis of Lyme disease is not straightforward and requires both screening and confirmatory testing to be performed in accredited laboratories and the results interpreted by pathologists experienced in this type of laboratory testing. False positive Lyme Disease laboratory results are known to occur, as they are for a number of infectious diseases. The Centres for Disease Control in the USA have also raised concerns about the diagnosis of Lyme Disease being made by in-house tests that have not been fully evaluated and recommends such tests should not be relied upon for the diagnosis. The Department considers the health of the WA population as its primary concern and if aware of appropriate evidence to support the presence of Lyme Disease in WA would notify the population. It is important that unsubstantiated claims of the discovery of a new disease do not result in unnecessary alarm.

Does the Health Department agree that more research and testing needs to be done on ticks in Western Australia?

Yes, new diseases are being discovered all the time and although there has been no evidence of the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi in ticks from Australia to date, we should remain vigilant to any new information suggesting it, or something else that causes a similar illness, may be present in Australia.

Why is the Health Department relying on out-dated research instead of pro-actively trying to determine the existence and extent of Lyme Disease in Western Australia?

The Department is not relying on out-dated research. Rather, the position remains that:

· The species of ticks that carry the bacterium that causes Lyme disease in other countries has not been identified in Australia.

· The organism itself has not been identified in extensive studies of Australian ticks.

· Accredited pathology laboratories in WA have not confirmed any cases of locally acquired Lyme Disease.

If presented with reliable evidence that Lyme Disease had been contracted in WA then further research money could be directed to the disease. However, without appropriate evidence supporting the existence of Lyme Disease in WA research money is clearly better spent on diseases known to affect the WA population.

What would it take for the Health Department to acknowledge that Lyme Disease not only exists in Western Australia, but is being acquired here?

This has already been partially addressed. An independent review of the supportive clinical, epidemiological, and laboratory information concerning the people with illness by infectious disease experts would be needed, as well as studies identifying the existence of the organism, vector (tick species), and animal reservoir in the environment. It is important that alternate diagnoses for complex illnesses that may be mis-diagnosed as Lyme Disease are not discounted, as this would be detrimental to the patient by depriving them of more appropriate therapy and potentially result in costly, unnecessary and potentially harmful treatment.

What advice can the Health Department give to the family of this little boy, who live in rural W.A., about the best course of treatment now that they have a positive diagnosis?

As mentioned above, the details of how the diagnosis was arrived at should be reviewed, the testing should be confirmed by an accredited independent laboratory and an opinion from a relevant specialist doctor sought.