My own brother contracted Lyme Disease while working as a surveyor in the Northern NSW rainforest. Witnessing his ordeal, I discovered Australia to be the only country in the world not to recognise the existence of Lyme Disease. Owing to our Government’s blatant denial, and ruthless persecution of dissident doctors, my brother and an estimated 60,000 fellow Aussie Lyme Disease sufferers have been denied medical treatment, workers’ compensation, social security, and more. The following article by veterinary scientist Dr John Curnow explains why this is so.
Dr John Curnow graduated from Sydney University in Veterinary Science in 1960. He worked for the Australian Federal Government funded NSW Agriculture Department near Lismore in Northern NSW, researching tick-borne diseases in cattle, for 12 years. Dr Curnow’s wife Dr Barbara Curnow was also a veterinarian who graduated in 1963. The Curnows established the Government laboratory for tick-borne diseases in cattle. Following the couple’s retirement, Barbara contracted Lyme Disease in 2004 and died in 2012, according to Dr Curnow: “Following eight years of hell trying to get her treated.”
Please copy, host and share this article immediately, as Dr Curnow’s life is under threat for putting his name to it.
John Curnow Questions
There are many questions to be answered concerning the handling of tick-borne diseases here over the last 50 years. Many of the decisions were not in keeping with proper scientific and medical knowledge and morality.
During the last 8 years of my wife, Barbara’s, illness, I was met with strange attitudes from over 100 doctors that I consulted. These occurred in both NSW and Queensland in major hospitals and involved infectious disease specialists and with GP’s in NSW. All but 3 doctors didn’t want to discuss the case or the history of a tick bite and just said,” Lyme disease doesn’t occur in Australia,” and walked away.
I had been distributing brochures for the McManus Foundation on tick-borne diseases, and I saw nursing staff in Lismore Hospital reading the pamphlets. They would say to me, “How can they say something doesn’t occur here with all the overseas travel?” I handed a brochure to one senior doctor, and he walked over and dropped it into the waste paper basket. It was as if he was afraid to talk or read on the subject.
On a visit to Barbara’s GP, a medical student was present. I always brought up the subject of borreliosis. The GP said he would ask his computer for the student. And there it was: “Lyme disease doesn’t occur in Australia.” There seemed to be an overarching force instructing the doctors via their computers not to consider the disease. Who was brainwashing the doctors? Perhaps the government?
Again I found it impossible to obtain a referral to a Tick-Borne Disease Specialist. They seemed to be marginalised by the profession, and seemed to be working under the fear of another doctor lodging a complaint and losing their license. When a Committee was formed to advise on research, no specialists were included, only those who had barely seen a case of Tick-Borne Disease.
After Barbara’s death, I joined up with the Karl McManus Foundation working at Sydney University. With donations from sufferers, they were attempting to isolate the organisms responsible. Attached to the Foundation was a lady who had been infected in the USA with 3 species (burgdorferi, garinii and hermsii) and diagnosed by a major laboratory there through her urine. She was suffering regular relapses and was willing to collect and forward her daily urine sample over 6 weeks to the McManus researcher at Sydney University. This was meant as a pilot study to see if the Foundation could repeat the USA work; when this was suggested to the McManus researcher she declined, saying she was not allowed to test more than one sample per person due to the ethics committee. I phoned a representative of the ethics committee and asked, “Why the ban on multiple samples?” It was not invasive, the donor was willing, and the work was being paid for by the Foundation and sufferers. All I received in reply was: “Those are the rules.”
Who makes the rules?
In 1994, Sydney University presented the results of their survey of 4372 patients with symptoms of borreliosis. The researchers did not get one positive result to the ELISA test for Borrelia burgdorferi. Normally, this would have called a halt to testing. Other species should have been considered for which the ELISA test had no value. Instead, they continued using the ELISA test as the only accredited test for the next 25 years. Almost all patients tested negative (including my wife). So under our system of ‘evidence-based treatment’ virtually nobody got treated. The Tick-Borne Disease Specialists realised this and sent samples to other laboratories, but these were not given accreditation. We needed to know why.
So it was time to find out why.
Australia country is one of the most secretive on Earth. It knows how to make laws and use the Federal Police to enforce them. Ask any journalist. I did not seek whistleblowers because I didn’t trust the veracity of government papers they might leak to me. I used eyewitness accounts and my own observations to provide the hypothesis that follows.
A story had been circulating in the Lyme community about an escape from a small island in the Hawkesbury River (Milson Island) just to the north of Sydney. My eyewitnesses include a lady that had been on the island in the 1960s, plus an Australian soldier who had been fighting in Vietnam also in the 1960s, as well as my own experience in 1961 and 1962. To these observations are added my knowledge of immune antibody tests, having developed one of the first, which was published in ‘Nature’ (1968) and ‘The Australian Veterinary Journal’ (1973). My work was on Babesia Argentine, which is similar to Borrelia infections, both being chronic and relapsing.
The story begins during the Second World War in New Guinea on the Kokoda track. Both the Australian and Japanese armies were severely affected by scrub typhus which was transmitted by trombiculid mites. Our troops were protected from the mites by a repellent developed by our entomologist Robert McCulloch (remember the name, it appears later). The Japanese soldiers had no such protection and inadequate malaria control. So, the Japanese troops were often ill and unable to fight. This was natural germ warfare and didn’t go unnoticed by the Australian Army.
After WW2 and during the Korean War, the US and other countries spent heavily on biological warfare research. They tried a wide range of pathogens and means of delivery using a variety of insects and arthropods. They preferred delivery by biting insects and ticks because they injected the pathogen directly into the skin of the enemy. But they also tried aerosol spraying. This is well documented in Kris Newby’s book, ‘Bitten.’
Erich Traub, a veterinary virology expert, worked on Riems Island, a Nazi research facility taken over by the Soviets at the end of the war. Traub escaped to the west and was given an entry to the USA under Operation Paperclip in 1951. He was evidently a smuggler of reagents as mentioned by Annie Jacobsen in ‘Operation Paperclip.’ It is suspected by some that Traub may have taken the mixture of organisms from Riems to the USA. The mixture may have ended up on Plum Island, been used to infect an animal which became the host for transmission by birds off Plum Island. In ‘Lab 257‘ Michael Carroll notes the abundant birdlife on Plum Island, with over 140 species there. Many of these were migratory birds whose flight paths crossed the island. Infected with the pathogens and carrying ticks, they may have travelled far. In the 1950s and 1960s, it may not have been known what pathogens were in the samples from Germany. However, in 1975 a cluster of arthritis cases appeared in Old Lyme in Connecticut, which in 1981 Willy Burgdorfer determined was due to a Borrelia (which was later named after him).
I believe the aim was to use this Nazi mixture as a biological warfare agent transmitted by ticks. In the 1960’s, the American and Australian armies were fighting the Vietcong in Vietnam. The Vietcong were hiding in underground tunnels and were difficult to get at. I met an Australian soldier who had been fighting there at the time. He saw US soldiers deep-drop paper packets into these tunnels. He thought they contained lice which were to transmit trench fever (Bartonella Quintana) when the paper broke down. Trench fever was a significant disease in the trenches during the First World War.
I believe the US feared residual tick infestations with their lxodes scapularis which would breed on any host, from mice – to humans – to deer. Identification of their ticks from these infestations would mean the US was using them in biological warfare, which was not acceptable then. In the 1950s, our Commonwealth Serum Labs (CSL) tried to breed our lxodes holocyclus in the laboratory for the production of tick antiserum for use on paralysed children. They found that bandicoots were needed for the breeding, and bandicoots were difficult to keep in captivity. So, they purchased the serum from veterinarians who produced the serum in dogs using ticks collected in the wild by collectors. CSL would then refine the serum for human use. So, I believe the Americans thought that there was less likelihood of lxodes holocyclus leaving behind telltale infestations due to the absence of bandicoots there.
The American Army Special Operations Command at Fort Detrick Maryland and the CIA (Code name MK-NAOMI) was tasked with developing, testing and deploying biological weapons. They decided to come here to test our ticks for safety and ability to transmit the pathogens. My lady eyewitness said she saw MK-NAOMI on Milson Island.
My army contact said our troops had to remove the last of the Vietcong and many became ill. My contact was later diagnosed with Rocky Mountain Spotted fever (Rickettsia rickettsii). As this disease could be transmitted via aerosol, they may have decided against using ticks.
In 1961 and 1962, while working for NSW Agriculture, I was engaged in the swine fever eradication campaign. As a veterinary officer, I was located at Gosford and worked in the area between Lake Macquarie in the north to the Hawkesbury River in the south. I was given a list of properties that the department had issued with a pig brand to mark pigs before a sale. Milson Island was on the list. At first, I chased up the holdings on the list and inspected the health of the pigs, and if feeding food was their cooking facilities. I’m sure the department would have notified license holders that this inspection was essential. Later, I was overwhelmed issuing permits for movement, doing post mortems, and destroying infected pigs, etc. So, I did the inspections when invited by the properties. Eventually, everyone on the list did, including the Correctional Centre at Kariong and Morisset Mental Hospital. At times, I was asked by our stock inspector how we’d get onto Milson Island. I suggested they would contact us and send their boat to pick us up. The invitation never came. Was something secret going on there?
After the swine fever work, I spent 6 months at CSIRO in Brisbane and at Queensland Primary Industries, learning about the basics of babesiosis and anaplasmosis in cattle. Even though they were the most economically significant diseases of cattle here, they were barely mentioned at Sydney University. All my veterinarian wife Barbara and I were told was that piroplasmosis occurs in Australia. And most importantly, nothing on serology.
I then returned to Lismore in Northern NSW, to set up the laboratory to do the work on tick-borne diseases at Wollongbar for Dr MacKerras and the Commonwealth Government. And when I returned, who should be my boss? None other than Robert ‘Bob’ McCulloch. Soon after returning, I accompanied Bob to a farm at Doubtful Creek, west of Casino, where a cow had died from babesiosis.
The cow had been in a paddock that contained a large pond, and around the pond were a number of egrets. Bob said, “I bet those birds had something to do with the cow dying.” He went on with Ivor Lewis to prove that tick infestations and tick fever outbreaks in north-eastern NSW were caused by tick larvae carried on the feathers of birds migrating from Queensland. This work was published in an Australian journal and wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by the Army and Government here with Bob’s name on it.
In 1982, cases of a Lyme-like disease occurred near Newcastle, then along the east coast of Australia. Our medical authorities assumed they were Lyme Disease (B. burgdorferi sensu stricto). They had not done as careful an investigation as they could have, and this could have been due to any of II species of Relapsing Fever (RF) known at the time, or an indigenous species. But in 1982 they were so enthused about computers, they didn’t look further and Lyme disease had just been identified in the US and it was possibly the only species entered on the database.
Remembering Bob’s work, this would have put great fear into the Australian Government and Army’s minds. Had there been an escape from Milson Island? Perhaps by birds, as there was from Plum Island in the US? The people at MK-NAOMI would have been shocked and I can hear them saying, “Another Goddam Plum Island and in another country. We gotta fix this.”
Up to 1988, Queensland Health workers using an Indirect Fluorescent Antibody (IFAT) Test were getting up to 15% positives for B. burgdorferi using the standard strain. In Sydney, NSW Health workers, Dr Munro (Liverpool) and Dr Dickeson (Westmead), using IFAT and ELISA with 831 strain were obtaining 3.7% positive. This was published in ‘Todays Life Science’ in October 1989. This would have alarmed the US, our Army and Government because it showed that there could have been a slight leak from Milson Island.
Between 1982 and 1988, patients were being treated based on symptoms shown and they were recovering. Then in 1988, the ELISA test for just B.burgdorferi was started by Sydney University as a screening test and only those positive had an opportunity for a second-tier test and then if positive treated. Why was a test (ELISA) that in the US rated as only 50% effective used here with our evidence-based (EBT) treatment system?
Up to 1988, NSW Health was providing a diagnostic service. So why was Sydney University chosen for the large survey from 1988 to 1994? Was it that the CIA had much control over the University because of the work on mind control they did there and on Milson Island for MK-ULTRA and the CIA? The Psychology Department there was studying the use of hypnosis and LSD on the mind. This work was well documented in ‘Eyes Wide Open‘ by Fiona Barnett. I recommend this book for those who want to know what goes on behind the scene. Of course, this explains the restrictions placed on the McManus Foundation’s work there.
Who provided the testing reagents used at Sydney University? From my work with one of the earlier immune antibody tests, it would be a simple exercise to produce a kit that produced few positives. In fact, I never considered my test to be of any use as a diagnostic test.
Who paid for the testing at Sydney University, the US or Australian governments?
So in 1994, when 4372 patients had been tested, and all were classed as negative after Western Blot second-tier tests, our Government, our army, and MK-NAOMI must have been ecstatic. So much so that they decided to continue with the ELISA test as the only test permitted for the next 35 years.
This must rank as the worst case of medical negligence anywhere in the world. And just to cover up what might have happened 60 years ago.
And, 60 years on they’re still trying to stop us finding the real cause because we might inadvertently find B. burgdorferi. The Federal Health Department is providing a fact sheet on removing and treating ticks and their bites. They are getting a neuropsychologist to write it. Evidently, there are no field entomologists left in Australia. It’s like getting a rugby coach to talk about women’s tennis.
It is obvious that the aim in this fact sheet is to render the ticks useless if the patient falls ill after the tick bite. Spraying and killing it with an ether freezing spray will guarantee many ticks will fall off and be lost. And, if the tick remains attached, go to the nearest health professional who will remove it with tweezers and dispose of it. So, virtually no tick will be of use for culture or genetic testing. So, no chance of isolating the organism(s) responsible and MK-NAOMI will be safe.
And there is just a brief mention in the pamphlet of the most crucial group of ticks, the Argasid (soft) ticks. With these, you often don’t know you’ve been bitten. They don’t engorge, they briefly take a drink of blood, then fall off. They are most active at night. There are at least 4 species in Australia and have a life cycle spanning years. This is important as it gives Borrelia, which divides only once or twice a day, time to go through the necessary cycles to revert to the basic most invasive and pathogenic form. This form provides endemic borreliosis. This is known in Africa with B.duttoni and Ornithodorus moubata. When B. duttoni is transmitted by lice (short life cycle) and little reversion it is milder and is called epidemic borreliosis. The organism is then called B. recurrentis. The American workers, B. Cadavid and D. Londono, recognised this with their B. hermsii, an RF species, in the USA in 2009. I believe an RF Borrelia transmitted by lxodid (short life cycle) could be similar to louse-borne infections overseas and causing epidemic borreliosis here. Research here has completely ignored the Argasid ticks and preventing their bites is essential as is the examination of what they carry.
In 1995, Dr Michelle Wills, in a PhD thesis submitted to Newcastle University, presented evidence that 2 genospecies of B.burgdorferi (B. afzelii and B. garinii) were present along the Australian east coast but was never followed up. They would have most likely been introduced by any of the 40 or more species of birds that migrate annually from northern Europe or Asia. In her book ‘Lyme,’ Mary Pfeiffer describes the work done by John Scott in predicting where Lyme cases would occur in Canada by following bird migration paths. The Europeans accept that birds are responsible for the movement of infections. When infected birds come here from the north and nest, waiting for them are the Argasid tick, Ornithodorus capensis, to increase the infections they carry.
Tick-Borne Disease Specialists like Dr Peter Mayne sent samples overseas, as he did to IGeneX in California. These don’t screen first with ELISA but use 4 tests (IFAT, early and late Western Blot and PCR). In a 2012 paper in ‘The International J. of General Med,’ Peter Mayne sent 51 samples and 28 had positive results for Borrelia and positives for babesiosis, anaplasmosis, bartonellosis and ehrlichiosis. Four patients had never been outside Australia. There was evidence B. garinii was involved. Something had to stop this overseas work. So in a radio broadcast ‘Lyme a four-letter word‘ on ABC National, Dr Stephen Graves stated that IGeneX had its own system of interpreting antibody taste and do not meet Australian standards and positive results could be cross-reactions. IGeneX has had a chequered past and was fined in 2001 with irregularities of documentation but is now compliant.
In Sydney, Australian Biologics that used European Elispot test and got positives could not get accreditation. It seems that any positive reaction is just not allowed here.
In the 1960s, our laboratory at Wollongbar used diagnostic tests that were over 90% accurate. We thoroughly checked all positive tests, using passive transfer tests, using splenectomised calves, and positivity was determined by seeing the organisms in the blood of the calves.
Accuracy was paramount as we had to be sure the farmers’ hip pockets were not affected by incorrect quarantining. I am appalled by the medical profession’s ‘couldn’t-care-less’ attitude to people’s lives. They seem more concerned they might find B. burgdorferi than finding the cause.
Personally, I don’t think there was more than a slight chance of an escape from Milson Island. The levels of 3.7% found by Munro and Dickerson (the only figures I consider reliable) could be cross-reactions to RF organisms or other organisms here. In the USA, cross reactions between B. burgdorferi and B.hermsii (RF) were suspected. Tom Schwan et el (1996) developed a GlpQ antigen to differentiate between the two. Nothing like this has been done here.
I spoke to a senior Aboriginal man, and he said: “Some tick bites send you silly.” Other Aboriginals spoke of applying tea tree extracts to bite wounds. This should be followed up. These people have been here for much longer than we have. In 1982, our medical people may have just put a name to conditions they had been seeing before but couldn’t put a cause to.
In the northeast of the USA where Burgdorferi is endemic, 10% to 20% of Borrelia in ticks are genetically related to B.niyamotoi (an RF from Japan). These are not picked up by ELISA, Western Blot, or PCS assays for Lyme disease. This means patients with a Lyme like illness may be infected by other species Borrelia explaining serological results for Lyme disease. Other tick-borne diseases (Babesia, Bartonella, etc.) may complicate and make Lyme symptoms worse but cannot be diagnosed using screening tests.
Tests are unreliable, and some like ELISA, Western Blot, may be only 50% effective in the USA. In one study of non-EM (bullseye rash), 81% were not confirmed by the present two tiered system (ELISA plus Western Blot). The PCR test has an overall sensitivity of about 30% but is highly specific (99%). All in all, there are many problems with laboratory diagnosis of the many species in the USA. And, here we haven’t found one species.
Obviously, laboratory tests are of little value and only useful for confirmation. They have no place in an EBT system like ours. Testing may just cause a delay in treatment. Early treatment is essential, and soon after the tick bite (prophylactic treatment). This should be available and as easy as seeing a pharmacist for a 3 week course of antibiotics. Of course, the medical people will scream, “overuse of antibiotics.” But, surely 3 weeks is better than 3 months, or more later which may not be successful. For the chronic cases, an experienced clinician seeing cases every day is more likely to be correct, especially so where the organisms responsible have not been identified. These Tick-Borne Disease Specialists (TBDS) should be helped not hindered as they are now. They have a leading role to play in future research, identifying organisms and treatment.
Research has been directed at proving 8. burgdorferi is not present in Australia and has been restricted to this by the parties involved in the 1960’s work. After 60 years, proper research is needed with a leader that has a broad view of the problem. A leader with the desire to isolate the culprits and with overseas contacts and the understanding of the techniques needed. An institute is required to concentrate just on tick-borne diseases like we had in the 1970s with CSIRO and Old Primary Industries in Brisbane.
People are dying, others are sick, unable to work and suffering financial problems. Others are choosing suicide. Families are being torn apart, and their children are suffering. Urgent action is needed.
Barnett, Fiona, “Eyes Wide Open,” 2019. https://fionabarnett.org/2019/08/07/read-fiona-barnetts-new-book-eyes-wide-open/
Cadavid, D and Londono, B “Understanding troposism and immunopathological mechanisms of relapsing fever spirochaetes in Journal Compilation 2009 European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.
Carroll, Michael C “Lab 257s The Disturbing Story of the Government’s Secret Plum Island Gem Laboratory” New York: William Morrow, 2004.
Doorlands Medical Dictionary, 23rd Edition, 1957.
Jacobsen, Annie “Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America. Boston: Back Bay Books/ Little, Brown, 2015.”
Lyme: “A Four Letter Word.” ABC Radio National, May 12 2013.
Mayne, Peter “Emerging incidence of Lyme borreliosis, babesiosis, bartonellosis and granulocytic ehrlichiosis in Australia,” International Journal of General Medicine, 2011:4 845-852.
Newby, Kris “Bitten: The secret history of Lyme disease and biological weapons,” Harper Collins 2019.
Munro, Rosemary and Dickeson, David “Lyme disease” Today’s Life Science 32, October 1989.
Pfeiffer, Mary Beth “Lyme: The first epidemic of climate change.” Washington, DC: Island Press 2018.
Schwan, Tom, Schrumpf, M E Hinnebusch, J Anderson Jr, and M Konkel
“G1pQ: an Antigen for seriological discrimination between Relapsing Fever and Lyme borreliosis.” Journal of Clinical Microbiology, Oct.1996 p 2483.
Sydney University, Department of Medical Entomology in Fact Sheet Lyme Unease March 3, 2013.