HIBBING — St. Louis and Itasca counties are in the highest risk zones for tick borne disease in the state, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).
In St. Louis County there are been nearly 900 confirmed cases of Lyme’s disease since 2000.
The number of Lyme disease cases has been increasing dramatically since the 1990s, the MDH points out. A variety of factors — including increasing physician awareness, increasing infection rates in ticks and expanding tick distribution — may have led to this trend.
Typically, Lyme’s disease diagnosis and research is based on blood tests that look at the body’s antibody response to the infection
Yet, according to Thomas Grier, a microbiologist based in Duluth, blood tests may be missing the full extent of the Lyme disease infection.
Grier, who since 1997 has been studying the brains of dementia and Lyme disease patients, has found a startling relationship between the bacteria present in Lyme’s disease and the bacteria present in dementia.
“What keeps recurring in the brains that we test is a tick-borne relapsing fever bacteria related to Lyme disease called Borrelia myamotoi, but it is not detected by any current blood tests or Lyme disease blood testing,” Grier said in a release.
This bacteria lodges deep within the brain and other tissues and organs, he explained.
“The Lyme pathogen then enters deep tissues and organs like the brain and heart. Blood tests cannot detect these deep infections in sequestered sites, so only brain autopsies can detect these deep, persistent infections,” he said.
Once in the brain, Borrelia myamotoi coats amyloid plaque with a biofilm of bacteria. Both amyloid plaques and bacteria biofilm cause inflammation that destroy neurons, the primary source of destruction in individuals with dementia.
For Grier this research proves a possible infectious component to dementia that is directly related to Lyme disease.
“We were the only ones for 20 years doing brain pathology on Lyme disease and looking for infectious etiologies for Dementia,” Grier stated. “Now citing our work, major universities like Drexel, Johns Hopkins, Columbia, Harvard and New Haven are all trying to replicate our work and be first in peer review to declare infectious components to Alzheimer’s dementia.”
Grier noted that this hasn’t been noticed before because research methods still rely on ineffective blood tests that are only able to detect one strain of infectious bacteria when at least five exist in Minnesota.