Protecting yourself against Lyme disease

The relatively warmer winter experienced in Minnesota is partially to blame for an increased risk of Lyme disease. Experts say higher temperatures have caused the mouse population to explode along with the number of insects and ticks mice feed on, which can carry Lyme disease.

“With the coming spring and summer season, you should think of Lyme disease the same way you think of skin cancer - you put on sun block. You should think about preventing yourself from insect bites,” said Dr. Elena Frid, a neurologist from New York City.

More than 300,000 people are newly diagnosed with Lyme disease each year. Heather Hearst recently founded Project Lyme as way to advocate awareness. Hearst contracted Lyme disease when she was just 14 years old. For awhile she blamed the fatigue, joint soreness, and headaches on being a typical teenager. Then one day she couldn't get out of a chair, struggled with reading, and was slurring her words.

“I didn't notice at the moment, but the left side of my face had paralyzed, Bell's Palsy, which is a classic symptom of Lyme disease,” said Hearst.   

“It's very concerning as a Lyme expert,” said Dr. Frid. “Because the symptoms are so vague and the tests are so unreliable.”

Dr. Frid points out a rash only shows up on people with Lyme disease 20 percent of the time and blood tests are inaccurate roughly half the time.

“Lyme disease is known as the great mimicker,” said Dr. Frid. “It can mimic a lot of disease, specifically neurodegenerative, including MS, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's.”

Some research even shows a link to autism.

To avoid the ticks in the first place, recommendations include using bug spray with at least 20 percent DEET. There is even a product aimed at feeding mice cotton laced with chemicals to kill ticks in your yard.

Most importantly, check skin for ticks after time outdoors. Hearst says in her family, it's as routine as brushing teeth.

“We do these things because we know there are consequences,” said Hearst. “People need to know the consequences are severe.”

This weekend, a fundraiser gala is being held on May 5 at Radisson Blu MOA. On May 6, there will be a walk in the morning followed by a resource and activity fair throughout the day in the Rotunda. Ally Hilfiger will be signing her book Bite Me. Ally was institutionalized as a teenager until they realized that she actually had Lyme disease.

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