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Loudoun County warning public about Lyme disease

A bulls-eye formation on the skin may indicate Lyme disease. (Courtesy of NPS.gov)

WASHINGTON — It’s beautiful and wooded, and many people live there for the perks of nature. But the open spaces of Loudoun County can also be a breeding ground for the ticks that cause Lyme disease.

“In Loudoun County, like many areas, any time we go outside we are potentially going into a tick habitat, not just when we are going onto a trail or into a park,” says Dr. David Goodfriend, director of the Loudoun County Health Department.

He says Lyme disease is a significant concern in the county, which is stepping up a Lyme-awareness campaign launched in 2012.

“We have been using Facebook and Twitter to get the word out,” says Goodfriend. The Loudoun School District has also gotten involved, and this month the county plans to launch a series of advertisements in movie theaters.

The goal is to alert the public to the dangers of Lyme disease, which is caused by a bacteria passed on by bites from infected ticks — most commonly, black-legged ticks formerly known as “deer ticks.”

“We want those ticks far away from us and from our property,” says Goodfriend, noting that these insects do not like well-mowed lawns or hot sun.

He says it’s important to dress properly when going into potential tick areas, including wearing long sleeves and pants. Commercial tick repellents are also available. And anyone who spends time outdoors should check for ticks on their skin, or evidence of bites, every day.

Often, but not always, the bites create a “bull’s-eye” skin rash. But any unusual rash should be checked by a doctor, as well as any flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, chills and fever.

“If you notice any of these symptoms in the summer, it may be nothing — it may be a virus; it may be an allergy to something — but it pays to talk to your doctor, just in case,” says Goodfriend.

The county’s Lyme disease awareness campaign has begun to have an impact. Before it was launched, documented Lyme cases peaked at 261 in 2011. Last year, they were down to 193.

Goodfriend emphasizes that these numbers may be the tip of the iceberg — they are only those that come to the attention of the health department and meet the Center for Disease Control’s surveillance criteria.

“The CDC estimates [that] for every case that is documented, there may be an additional 10 or 20 people who do get infected every year,” he says

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