Background: Borrelia burgdorferi is the causative agent of Lyme borreliosis. This spirochete, along with Babesia, Bartonella, Anaplasma, Ehrlichia, and the Rickettsia spp. are recognized tick-borne pathogens. In this study, the clinical manifestation of these zoonoses in Australia is described.
Methods: The clinical presentation of 500 patients over the course of 5 years was examined. Evidence of multisystem disease and cranial nerve neuropathy was sought. Supportive laboratory evidence of infection was examined.
Results: Patients from every state of Australia presented with a wide range of symptoms of disease covering multiple systems and a large range of time intervals from onset. Among these patients, 296 (59%) were considered to have a clinical diagnosis of Lyme borreliosis and 273 (54% of the 500) tested positive for the disease, the latter not being a subset of the former.
In total, 450 (90%) had either clinical evidence for or laboratory proof of borrelial infection, and the great majority of cases featured neurological symptoms involving the cranial nerves, thus mimicking features of the disease found in Europe and Asia, as distinct from North America (where extracutaneous disease is principally an oligoarticular arthritis). Only 83 patients (17%; number [n]=492) reported never leaving Australia.
Of the 500 patients, 317 (63%) had clinical or laboratory-supported evidence of coinfection with Babesia or Bartonella spp. Infection with A. phagocytophilum was detected in three individuals, and Ehrlichia chaffeensis was detected in one individual who had never traveled outside Australia. In the cohort, 30 (11%; n=279) had positive rickettsial serology.
Conclusion: The study suggests that there is a considerable presence of borreliosis in Australia, and a highly significant burden of coinfections accompanying borreliosis transmission. The concept sometimes advanced of a “Lyme-like illness” on the continent needs to be re-examined as the clinical interplay between all these infections. Evidence is presented for the first report of endemic anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis on the continent.