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Lyme disease

2-minute read

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.

Read about Australian investigations into Lyme disease.

What causes Lyme disease?

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

Ticks are insect-sized eight-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.

Lyme disease symptoms

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.

Most people feel like they have the flu — they are tired and have a fever and a headache.

If it’s not treated, Lyme disease can spread and cause infection in the brain or the membranes around the brain (meningo-encephalitis) or around the heart (endocarditis, myocarditis or pericarditis). It can also cause long-term problems with the joints and the brain.

Diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease

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.

Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection and minimise the chances of any long-term complications such as arthritis and memory problems.

Lyme disease prevention

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.

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Last reviewed: February 2019

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