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US celebrities battle Lyme disease: Does it exist in Australia?

Model Bella Hadid writes about ‘100+ days of Lyme, chronic disease ... almost 15 years of invisible suffering‘.

Model Bella Hadid writes about ‘100+ days of Lyme, chronic disease ... almost 15 years of invisible suffering‘. Photo: Instagram/bellahadid

Supermodel Bella Hadid has posted a detailed medical report of her chronic health issues on Instagram, including that she struggled for more than 100 days with the controversial tick-borne infection known as Lyme disease.

Hadid, 26, shared a medical report and photographs of her treatment to her 59 million Instagram followers saying she was “finally healthy” after intense health struggles.

“The universe works in the most painful and beautiful ways but I need to say that if you are struggling – it will get better,” she wrote.

” … this 100+ days of Lyme, chronic disease, co infection treatment, almost 15 years of invisible suffering, was all worth it if I’m able to, God willing, have a lifetime of spreading love from a full cup, and being able to truly be myself.

“I tried to pick the most positive pictures I could because as painful as this experience was, the outcome was the most enlightening experience of my life filled with new friends, new visions and a new brain,” she said, sparking almost 20,000 comments on her page.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, a recently released estimate based on insurance records suggests that each year about 476,000 Americans are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease.

CDC says it’s “likely an overestimate of actual infections” because patients are treated in medical practices with symptoms of the disease, but not actually confirmed.

People contract the disease if they are bitten by a tick carrying Borrelia burgdorferi  bacteria.

In Australia, scientists “have not found Borrelia burgdorferi in Australian ticks, or any other Australian insect that could pass the disease to humans (called a vector)”.

However, in the US it’s a different story and Hadid is not the first celebrity to make reference to Lyme disease.

Up to 20 celebrities have spoken about Lyme over the years, according to People magazine, including Hadid’s mother, Yolanda, Riley Keough (the daughter of Lisa Marie Presley), TV personality and footballer Ryan Sutter, and Ben Stiller.

What is Lyme disease?

According to the Australian government’s health website, locally acquired Lyme disease is “not supported” in Australia.

“Lyme disease is commonly found in parts of the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Asia,” it wrote.

“Visitors to these areas can become infected and return to Australia with Lyme disease. Australian healthcare providers can readily diagnose and treat Lyme disease.

“You cannot give Lyme disease to someone else.

“People can get Lyme disease if they are bitten by a tick carrying Borrelia burgdorferi  bacteria. Scientists have not found Borrelia burgdorferi in Australian ticks, or any other Australian insect that could pass the disease to humans (called a vector).

“For this reason, the Australian government does not support the diagnosis of locally acquired Lyme disease.

“Instead, it recognises that a group of patients experience debilitating symptom complexes that some people attribute to ticks.”

However, government-funded service Health Direct has clear directives for travellers returning from overseas with symptoms that include fatigue, fever, chills, muscle and joint aches, swollen lymph nodes and headaches.

“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,” it wrote.

It lists symptoms patients may suffer, says blood tests can be taken, there’s numerous health guidelines clinicians can follow to treat patients with “overseas tick-borne diseases: Lyme disease”.

In the September issue of Vanity Fair, Keough, 34, who talks about inheriting Graceland and losing her mother, talks for the first time about her battle with Lyme disease.

Journalist Britt Hennemuth asked why the interview is being done in Switzerland.

“I have Lyme disease,” she said.

“I used this little break that I have to come and try and see if I can alleviate it a bit.

“It’s a holistic treatment centre and offers all kinds of things that you can’t really do in America yet, like cleaning your blood.”

She has never addressed Lyme in detail before and doesn’t discuss the debilitating symptoms she has lived with.

She has a daughter, Tupelo Storm Smith-Petersen, who arrived via surrogate in August last year.

“I think it’s a very cool, selfless, and incredible act that these women do to help other people. I can carry children, but it felt like the best choice for what I had going on physically with the autoimmune stuff.”

The Bachelorette winner and firefighter, Ryan Sutter also battled a mystery illness throughout 2020 into 2021.

‘Something I will always have’

He contracted COVID-19 and was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus, as well as dealing with exhaustion and dehydration.

He told People in mid-2022 his “immune system was weakened through exposures to toxins and especially to mould” and that he underwent tests for everything including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and at one point, lymphoma.

“[It made it] difficult to fight off infections, or what it seems like, allowing prior infections that my immune system had been able to sort of suppress and keep down, to resurface,” he said.

“I now essentially have Lyme disease — it seems like something that I will always have. It’s just that now I know, and I will try to build back my immune system to fight it off.”

In September 2020, stand-up comedian, actor and former Oscars host Amy Schumer also took to social media to share her Lyme disease diagnosis.

Amy Schumer’s diagnosis

“Anyone get LYME this summer?” she asked, requesting people to share their own stories and treatment options.

Of the 3300 comments she generated, some shared anecdotes of using herbs and holistic remedies, completely changing their diet, using antibiotics to treat the “complex” disease.

“I found out eight years too late that I caught it. It was a pain to get under control at that point and after three years I did,” wrote one fan.

“Then I hurt my ankle and the body went out of balance. If you think you know you caught it. Take antibiotics at the time! If you’re healing … no alcohol, no carbs and no sugar (feeds the Lyme) and no dairy (inflammatory).”

And this: “Lyme can be very complex and surprising. Diet is needed. Hoping you are doing better. It took me years to get diagnosed and treated. I’m on the worst battle of my life.”

For Hadid, she says her 15-year struggle has made her who she is today, and she is “finally healthy”.

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