Sufferer calls for recognition of Lyme disease

A BALLARAT women is battling a debilitating disease, which some Australian doctors refuse to recognise could be the cause of her pain. 

While doctors continue to argue about the existence of the bacteria causing Lyme disease in Australia, Julieanne Ditchfield has been suffering since she first become ill in May 2011.

“It just felt like a big enormous dose of the flu,” she said 

“I just did what I normally do and went and got antibiotics.”

However, months later the symptoms had not gone away and doctors were unable to discover what was wrong and Ms Ditchfield was bedridden.

She lost 12 kilograms in six weeks, suffered from a cardiac arrhythmia attack, a stroke-like attack and also had a three-month hospital stay. 

Ms Ditchfield was given a false diagnosis of motor neurone disease and undertook an expensive blood test, which came back positive for Lyme disease. 

This test was not recognised by some doctors, who labelled it as a false positive.

Ms Ditchfield has never left Australia, which has added to the confusion surrounding the disease and raises the possibility of it originating in Australia. 

She said few doctors in Australia knew enough about the disease to provide a detailed treatment plan so she sees a naturopath and focuses on keeping herself healthy. 

The disease can cause a myriad of problems for patients. Ms Ditchfield now uses a walking frame. 

However, she believes in the previous two years there has been better acceptance of the disease. 

“We just want validation to start with. There is not a blanket cure because there are so many different people with so many different symptoms,” she said. “We want recognition and we want more of the public educated and asking for the tests.” 

This slow change has led to Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Baggoley, establishing a clinical advisory committee.

Professor Baggoley said conclusive discovery in Australia of the bacteria that could cause Lyme disease had yet to be made.

“While the diagnostic uncertainty across the medical community is not ideal, the continued search for evidence for a causative organism is the only way that this uncertainty can be resolved,” he said. 

“In the meantime, doctors must always use their best clinical judgement as to the cause of any illness their patients may be experiencing and act accordingly.” 

A rally will be held next month to raise awareness of the disease. It will be at Federation Square in Melbourne on May 17 between 10am and 4pm.

matthew.dixon@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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