Brandi Johnson was diagnosed with the disease shortly after she turned 37. She doesn’t remember getting bitten by a tick and never had the typical ‘bulls-eye’ rash associated with it. She just remembers the joint pain and arthritic-like symptoms setting in.
“Lyme disease was never once on my radar. It’s scary because it’s not always obvious,” she said.
The high-risk area has been growing in Michigan over the last few years. Medical Ecologist Jennifer Sidge said that’s because black-legged ticks that carry Lyme have been moving here from neighboring states.
“We’re considered an invading state in terms of the bacteria and where the Lyme can be found. The most important thing to remember is just to be aware,” she said.
Awareness means protecting yourself in the wooded areas where ticks live. Wear long pants tucked into your socks, wear long sleeves and wear light colors so the ticks stand out more on your clothes. Do a head-to-toe tick check, take a show right away and wash your clothes in hot water immediately once you get home.
Despite her illness, Brandi says the risk of getting bitten doesn’t mean you need to hide indoors.
“I think it’s very important for people to live their lives…to enjoy the woods and get out in nature and not let it completely impeded them from doing the things they love. But I think that it is so critical for people to understand how real it is,” she said.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services encourages people to send in ticks to get tested for the disease. People can also send in pictures of ticks too.
“We are surrounded by states that are high-incidents for Lyme disease. And so we have been tracking the Lyme pathogen for numerous years. Upper Peninsula has had the Lyme ticks, and bacterium for numerous years. We actually first found infected ticks in the Lower Peninsula in 2002. From that time we have been tracking the invasion in the state,” Sidge said.
Mid-Michigan is once again a haven for the breed of ticks that carries Lyme disease.