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It’s been called Loudoun County’s “silent epidemic” and “the greatest threat of our time.” Lyme disease; this sometimes-debilitating illness affects–at a minimum–hundreds of people in our community every year.
We say “at a minimum” because many people struggle with Lyme for years before they even know what’s wrong with them. Misunderstandings about Lyme disease symptoms are common, and, since the epidemic is relatively new, doctors in the area face a learning curve.
What we do know is that Lyme disease is carried by the tiny black-legged deer tick. We also know that the epidemic is real. Blake Landscapes horticultural consultant Matt Coughlin has had it twice. Both times, he was diagnosed in time and successfully treated with antibiotics. Likewise for Blake Landscapes Dulles Airport Operations manager Skye Valois, who was infected with Lyme by a tick he picked up while working at the airport.
Walk through any Loudoun County pasture or wooded area or along any stream bank in spring or summer, and you’ll probably come home with at least a few black-legged ticks on your skin or clothing. If you’re lucky, you’ll feel the tick on your leg or arm and look down to see a dark spec moving along your skin. If the tick gets attached and starts sucking your blood, there’s a good chance you won’t find it until its’ too late.
But there are things you can do to protect yourself from deer ticks and Lyme disease. One of the easiest things to do is to wear long pants when you’re in any area with leaf litter or tall grass. Tuck your pants into your socks or boots if you can. Long sleeves help too.
Insect repellents with DEET are somewhat effective at deterring ticks as well.
Since most people who contract Lyme disease in this region are infected on their own properties, it also pays to take steps to tick proof your yard.
- Remove leaf litter.
- Clear tall grasses and brush around homes and at the edge of lawns.
- Place a 3-ft wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to restrict tick migration into recreational areas.
- Mow the lawn frequently.
- Stack wood neatly and in a dry area (discourages rodents).
- Keep playground equipment, decks, and patios away from yard edges and trees.
- Discourage unwelcome animals (such as deer, raccoons, and stray dogs) from entering your yard by constructing fences.
- Remove old furniture, mattresses, or trash from the yard that may give ticks a place to hide.
There also safe and effective chemical treatments available that can help keep you and your family safe from deer ticks, but they are most effective when used in conjunction with taking the precautions listed above.
We’ll have more information in the near future on what you can do combat the Lyme disease epidemic. In the meantime, here are some links to various resources with information on Lyme disease and black-legged ticks:
- Loudoun County Environmental Health Services
- Tick Management Handbook
- Centers for Disease Control Lyme disease page
- Ticks in Winter