Change in conversation around tick-borne illnesses

RECOVERED: Rhonda Carney of Minchinbury says she can't understand why Australia's medical fraternity continues to question the existence of tick-borne illnesses. Picture: Isabella Lettini
RECOVERED: Rhonda Carney of Minchinbury says she can't understand why Australia's medical fraternity continues to question the existence of tick-borne illnesses. Picture: Isabella Lettini

Five years ago, Rhonda Carney’s life changed forever after a stroll through Muogamarra Nature Reserve north of Sydney.

The experienced bushwalker and her husband often ventured off the beaten track, but on this occasion, it proved fateful. 

A nymph tick managed to find its way into her left shoe and latched between her toes, where it remained for about eight hours.

“I was blissfully unaware about the dangers of ticks,” she said. “If I’d known what could happen, I would have stuck to the track.”

Days later, a bullseye rash appeared on the Minchinbury resident’s foot, and she began to experience neurological issues including spells of vertigo.

“I started to research my rash and found an identical match online. It said it had been caused by a tick bite.”

The 56-year-old visited her GP after weeks of symptoms, who referred her to a specialist at Westmead Hospital.

Ms Carney, who works at a pharmacy said the specialist “didn’t take me seriously”. She told the Star that her doctor stated she was possibly suffering from Lyme disease in her referral.

Tick-borne illness remains a controversial subject in Australian medical circles, where many specialists refuse to recognise it exists.

“I was shocked to find out [tick-borne illnesses] was such a politicised subject,” she said. “I couldn’t get proper treatment here, so I had to travel to Bellingen to see a doctor who would help.”

I was shocked to find out it was such a politicised subject

Rhonda Carney

It took about 18 months of IV and antibiotic treatment to bring her illness under control. She still suffers dizzy spells while at work, but believes it will pass in time.

A recent federal senate inquiry concluded that there was “growing evidence of an emerging tick-borne disease” in Australia.

Doctor Mualla McManus from the Karl McManus Foundation said it was a step in the right direction for the medical fraternity.

“The recent federal senate inquiry highlighted a range of competing views on the definitions of tick-borne diseases,” she said. “However the reality is that tick-borne diseases exist in Australia and ticks are more prevalent in the warmer spring and summer months.”

Ms Carney said she was lucky to have suffered a mild episode of the illness, with other victims have been forced to sell their homes to pay for treatment.

“It’s just the saddest thing,” she said. “It’s great that there is finally more awareness out there.”