Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Lyme disease

4-minute read

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria transmitted in a tick bite. The types of tick that carry the bacteria are not native to Australia and it’s not likely you can catch Lyme disease in Australia.

Researchers are investigating whether Australian ticks can cause Lyme disease or Lyme disease-like symptoms. People bitten by ticks in USA, Europe or Asia can return to Australia with Lyme disease. It is not possible to catch Lyme disease from someone else.

Read about the latest Australian findings on Lyme disease.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

Most people with Lyme disease notice a rash that appears between 3 and 30 days after a tick bite. The rash may be tender, but it usually isn’t itchy or painful. Not everybody with Lyme disease gets a rash.

Other early symptoms of Lyme disease are:

  • feeling tired
  • fever
  • chills
  • muscle and joint aches
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • headache

If it’s not treated, Lyme disease can spread and cause infection in the brain or the membranes around the brain and spinal cord (meningo-encephalitis) or around the heart (endocarditis, myocarditis or pericarditis). Later symptoms of Lyme disease, days to months after the tick bite, include:

  • severe headaches
  • stiff neck
  • rashes on other parts of the body
  • a drooping face (palsy)
  • severe joint pain and swelling, arthritis
  • heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat
  • dizziness and shortness of breath
  • nerve pain (shooting pain, numbness or tingling)

Lyme disease can also cause long-term problems with the joints and the brain.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes Lyme disease?

You can get Lyme disease if you’re bitten by a tick carrying Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria.

Ticks are insect-sized 8-legged animals that can cling onto the skin. They can pierce the skin and inject their saliva, which may contain the bacteria, into the wound to draw blood for food. A tick has to be attached for at least 36 hours before the bacteria can be transmitted.

How is Lyme disease diagnosed?

Your doctor will examine you and ask you if you’ve been in an area where you may have been bitten by a tick before making a diagnosis.

You may have a blood test to confirm the diagnosis.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How is Lyme disease treated?

If you have Lyme disease, your doctor may refer you to an expert in infectious diseases, who may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection and minimise the chances of any long-term complications such as arthritis and memory problems. Long-term treatment with antibiotics is not recommended.

Other causes of Lyme disease symptoms

Sometimes people think they have the symptoms of Lyme disease, but it is a different disease caused by ticks. Diseases caused by tick bites that are known in Australia are:

  • Queensland tick typhus
  • Australian Spotted Fever
  • Flinders Island Spotted Fever
  • Q fever
  • mammalian meat allergy

Sometimes there is no known diagnosis for symptoms such as fatigue, disordered thinking, disturbances of the senses, joint pain and headaches. These symptoms are real and can be very debilitating. In this case, you doctor will work with you to manage the symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Can Lyme disease be prevented?

If you’re travelling to an area where ticks are common, especially in spring or summer:

  • wear long sleeves, long pants and long socks
  • use insect repellent containing DEET
  • check your body carefully and regularly

Remove ticks as soon as possible.

It is important to kill the tick first to prevent more saliva from being forced into the wound. Kill the tick with a product that quickly freezes it, such as a spray used to treat warts. Then gently remove it with tweezers when it is dead. This method will also lower your chances of developing an allergy to ticks. If you are allergic to ticks, you need the tick to be removed by a doctor.

Read more about preventing and treating insect bites.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2021


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Lyme disease - MyDr.com.au

Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness. Find out about the symptoms of Lyme disease, diagnosis, tests and treatment.

Read more on myDr website

Lyme disease fact sheet - Fact sheets

Lyme disease fact sheet

Read more on NSW Health website

Lyme disease serology - Pathology Tests Explained

Why and when to get tested for the anti-borrelia burgdorferi IgM/IgG test

Read more on Pathology Tests Explained website

Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) information | myVMC

An ELISA test (nzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) is a method of measuring the amount of substances in body fluids, such as hormones or proteins in blood.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Synovial fluid - Pathology Tests Explained

Why and when to get tested for synovial fluid analysis

Read more on Pathology Tests Explained website

ACD A-Z of Skin - Insect Bite Reactions

A-Z OF SKIN Insect Bite Reactions BACK TO A-Z SEARCH Examples of bites Insects are small animals with six legs and a hard protective outer shell called an exoskeleton

Read more on Australasian College of Dermatologists website

ACD A-Z of Skin - Primary Cutaneous B-Cell Lymphoma

A-Z OF SKIN Primary Cutaneous B-Cell Lymphoma BACK TO A-Z SEARCH What is it? Also known as … Cutaneous B-cell Lymphoma What is Primary Ctaneous B-cell Lymphoma (PCBCL)? Tumours of the lymph nodes and lymphatic system are called “lymphomas”

Read more on Australasian College of Dermatologists website

Tick removal: First aid and prevention - MyDr.com.au

Freeze it; Don't squeeze it! That's the latest advice from experts to Australians who have an attached adult tick. Tick removal: First aid and prevention

Read more on myDr website

Eyes - uveitis - Better Health Channel

betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Dengue fever - MyDr.com.au

Dengue is a viral infection transmitted by mosquitoes in tropical areas, including north Queensland. Most people recover fully, but the severe form - dengue haemorrhagic fever - can be fatal.

Read more on myDr website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.