May dedicated to raising awareness about tick-borne Lyme disease and infections

The month of May is dedicated to raising awareness about tick-borne Lyme disease and the multiple infections that can result.

And with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, protecting immunity and exposure is on everyone’s mind, especially for those already at a higher risk due to illness.

"Part of the issue I have found with Lyme is breathing, and with COVID-19 wrapped around respiratory issues, I have to be extra careful," said Lisa Najarian, who has suffered from Lyme disease for more than 20 years.

Najarian and her son, Cole, both have Lyme and have been isolated at the family’s Stillwater home for seven weeks. Lisa suspects she was infected while gardening.

Lyme is transmitted through bug bites; the Najarians aren’t sure when their college-age son was bitten.

"We didn’t know what was wrong with me until I finally tested positive for Lyme, but not everyone tests positive," Najarian said. "50% of the people who do blood tests test negative because it lies dormant in the system and skews the white blood count."

Health experts say one tick bite can cause multiple infections and miserable health problems for years if not detected in the first month. Dr. Jonathan Otten with Northern Lights Medicine in White Bear Lake is treating them.

"My big concern for this time is the huge uptick in tick bites in April, May and June," Otten said.

Dr. Otten believes the added risk this year is due to an earlier spring, bringing out an abundance of the small black bugs. And more people are outdoors in public places like parks, trails, lakes, golf courses or woods, one of the few passes folks have during the government-imposed stay-at-home restrictions.

"I have nearly scraped freckles off my little ones trying to do such a careful tick check when they come indoors from playing outside," Otten said.

Twin Cities foundation applauds new effort to improve Lyme disease testing, treatment

Najarian and Otten work to make others aware of the signs and symptoms through the Twin Cities Lyme Foundation.

"We want to get folks properly diagnosed. There are too many people out there with major health issues with Lyme not knowing what they have," Najarian said. "They go years and years not knowing that, and the longer you go having Lyme disease, the more difficult it is to eradicate it."

Like other non-profits during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Twin Cities Lyme Foundation has taken a hit.

"There are still people that have Lyme disease that need help, so our waiting list is growing, and unfortunately our funds are dwindling," Najarian said.

Dr. Otten said early symptoms include a rash at the site of the bite. Others will experience symptoms such as a fever, chills, muscle and joint aches, muscle pain or swollen lymph nodes.

If you think you might have symptoms, the Twin Cities Lyme Foundation has an online assessment to fill out and works to get a candidate proper testing and possibly treatment.