Health column: Take a bite out of lyme

Reporter Cyndi Murray makes a sour face while biting into a lime outside the newsroom last Thursday. (Credit: Joseph Pinciaro)
Reporter Cyndi Murray makes a sour face while biting into a lime outside the newsroom last Thursday. (Credit: Joseph Pinciaro)

Chances are if you don’t have Lyme disease you know someone who does.

Taking the necessary steps to prevent tick bites when you venture into the great outdoors becomes second nature here when the weather warms up. We all know the drill — wear light clothing, tuck your pants into your socks, conduct full-body checks for ticks after a day in the park, etc. Or just avoid wooded areas all together.

Still, there is something about the winter that makes you forget the threat. Three feet of snow can do that. Yet on the first day of 50-degree weather this spring, I found a tick on my dog and I realized it had slipped my mind to start preparing for tick season.

As it happened, the next day I learned about the “Take a Bite Out of Lyme Disease” challenge, which aims to raise awareness and funding for the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society.

If you’re challenged by someone to Take a Bite of Lyme, you’re asked to state one fact about Lyme disease, eat a lime, challenge three other friends and donate $10 to the nonprofit organization. You must also document the whole experience with photos and/or video.

Part-time Southold resident Maureen Massa, who has suffered for years with the debilitating disease, recently brought the initiative to the newspaper’s attention.

Ms. Massa is considered a “chronic Lyme” patient, having contracted the disease and two other tick-borne illnesses in 2009. Her symptoms have not gone away even after treatment.

She explained how the disease has at times made her too tired, weak and pained to walk up stairs — even several years after she was first infected.

Lyme disease is often called “the great imposter” since symptoms are often mistaken for those of numerous other diseases, such as ALS, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, even autism, according to the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society.

In Ms. Massa’s case, all subsequent test for tick-borne illness tests have come back negative despite lingering symptoms, though specialists have ruled out other causes.

Though anything gimmicky or trendy gives me pause, the Lyme challenge seemed like something worthwhile. As the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge illustrated last year, calling upon people to raise money for a cause using a fun hook and social media really works.

The Take a Bite out of Lyme Disease challenge kicked off March 1 and just more than a month and a later, thousands have posted photos of their scrunched up faces biting into limes, including celebrities like Debbie Gibson and William Shatner.

I figured I was in good company when I sliced up a lime on my desk last Thursday, readied a camera and bit in.

Who doesn’t want to be more like Captain Kirk?

As you could tell by the look on my face, it was sour — but all in good fun.

The Lyme disease fact I chose to attach with my photo is something I learned researching the challenge.

While I knew Lyme Disease cases were reported in places other than the Northeast U.S., I did not realize it had spread to every state except Hawaii, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. It seems not everyone is as hyper-vigilant against Lyme as are people in Suffolk County, where the tick-borne illnesses together are considered an epidemic.

The first person who came to my mind to challenge was county Legislator Jay Schneiderman. Mr. Schneiderman had sponsored the creation of a tick committee to reduce the incidence of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. A few of those meetings I attended as a reporter.

Though I wasn’t sure if Mr. Schneiderman would be willing to Take a Bite Out of Lyme, I gave him a call — and he agreed to take part in the challenge. The photos were priceless.

Click on photo to enlarge.
Click on photo to enlarge.

I also nominated Ms. Massa, who is currently working in Connecticut, and my friend Jaime in Massachusetts to help the challenge catch on across the country.

You can check out their challenge photos on our website,, and view photos from the thousands who have posted them on Twitter and Instagram by using the hashtag #LymeDiseaseChallenge.