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Is it Lyme or COVID-19? Tick-borne diseases and the coronavirus share similar symptoms

Experts say some symptoms of Lyme and COVID-19 coronavirus overlap and it's important to get the diagnosis right.

CUMBERLAND, Maine — COVID-19 coronavirus is circulating at a time when a ferocious tick season is underway. 

The Maine CDC is reporting 280 cases of Lyme so far this year, 205 cases of anaplasmosis and 10 cases of babesiosis, tick borne illnesses. 

But  there's a new concern this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control, tick borne diseases and the virus can share similar symptoms.

A distinctive red rash around a tick bite helps doctors recognize Lyme disease, but it doesn't occur in all cases.  

But when some of the symptoms between Covid and tick borne illnesses overlap, it's important to get the diagnosis right. 

The phones are ringing off the hook inside Integrated Health Center of Maine, where Dr. Sean McCloy, an MD treats patients for Lyme disease and tick borne infections.

'We've had a lot of patients calling asking what to do when they pull ticks off their body,' said Dr. McCloy.

Most reported cases of Lyme occur in the summer months, when deer tick populations are high. But during the pandemic there are new things to look out for when diagnosing patients.

'Some of the symptoms of Covid can mimic Lyme and vice versa, it can be difficult to parse them out,' said Dr. McCloy.

Dr. McCloy say similar symptoms include fever, headaches, chills, muscle and joint pain. But there are key differences

Lyme often causes a distinctive rash around the tick bite but that doesn't happen in all cases. A number of Lyme patients also suffer from neurological problems. Depending on medical history and symptoms, Doctors are encouraging patients to get tested for Covid prior to coming to the doctor's office.  

Celeste Zelasko had undiagnosed Lyme when she gave birth to her son Miles, passing the disease to him in the womb.

After years of seeing specialists in and out of state, both were diagnosed with tick borne illness which is in remission. 

But there is constant fear about a new tick bite, which could trigger their symptoms. 

Another big worry -- mother and son have severely impacted immune systems, which puts them more at risk for the virus. 

'With Covid it feels like the same thing at the grocery store, trying not to get close to anybody, keeping my hands washed.' said Zelasko.

Celeste's underlying tick borne infection is babesiosis, which drains oxygen from red blood cells.

Experts say babesiosis and anaplasmosis, another co-infection share closer symptoms to Covid including fever, shortness of breath and body aches.

'The same type of crushing chest pain, people discuss with Covid that comes wit babesia to many people,' said Zelasko.

Experts say there is another potential connection when it comes to treatment. There have been documented cases of patients who have improved using the same medications that manage inflamed immune systems both with Lyme and Covid-19.  

Information on Lyme disease and tick co-infections.

Facts about COVID-19 go here

Information about Integrative Health Center of Maine go here.

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