A Senate committee is racing to publish a report about the controversy surrounding Lyme disease, before its inquiry is shut down by the early election.
Committee chairwoman Senator Rachel Siewert said the inquiry had heard evidence from health experts and people who believed they had the disease, even though the bacteria has not been found in Australia.
"The key issue here is people are clearly sick, so being heard is really important so that people don't feel like they're being dismissed," she told Fairfax Media. "There's clearly something going on."
The Senate inquiry is being conducted under the title: "Growing evidence of an emerging tick-borne disease that causes a Lyme-like illness for many Australian patients."The driving force behind the inquiry, independent Senator John Madigan, is calling for an interim report to be written as soon as possible to allow the committee to "put a stake in the ground" before its work is disrupted by the federal election.
The committee's hearing at Parliament House recently was the final chance for people suffering Lyme disease to plead for help, before the election.
A Canberra infectious diseases expert, Professor Frank Bowden from the Australian National University medical school, has challenged the growing power of advocates who say Lyme disease has come to Australia.
The Australian Medical Association also says there is no evidence of the existence in Australia of Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes the disease in other countries.
Senator Siewert said she hoped the parliamentary inquiry would resume after the election.
"We still need to give people the opportunity to talk about what's going on, there's quite a lot of other evidence we still need to get," she said.
"Because they haven't found borrelia, what people are saying is it could be another form of bacteria that causes similar sorts of symptoms."
During the recent hearing by the inquiry in Canberra, audience members shook their heads at evidence by officials from federal health agencies.
At one stage, Liberal Senator Linda Reynolds invited Dr Gary Lum from the federal Department of Health's Office of Health Protection to turn around to see the reaction of audience members to his evidence.
"Their faces, their tears, their words and their head shakes tell us what you are saying is simply not the case," she said.
Dr Lum said he knew some audience members were suffering. "I understand the concerns that they have, I have heard them but we have to go with where the evidence is," he said.
Senator Reynolds replied: "I am not quite sure whether you willfully misunderstood what my colleagues have said, and I think clearly that the audience thinks that you have.
"The clear evidence is that the majority of those who have been diagnosed according to your diagnostic techniques – and it is certainly the evidence we have – are still treated with great stigma by doctors who do not believe it.
"They are treated with contempt and they are medicated for mental illness. So your belief here in Canberra is clearly not the case for many of these people with Lyme disease."