Loudoun County Health Department director Dr. David Goodfriend takes Lyme disease seriously.
"There is definitely a Lyme disease problem in Loudoun County," he said. "Forty percent of all Lyme disease cases in Virginia are here in Loudoun County."
Although Goodfriend is not sure why the number of Lyme disease patients increase each year, he said Loudoun County is an ideal breeding ground for the bacteria, transmitted by ticks.
The once-rural county has a large population of deer and rodents, like the white-footed mouse, a common Lyme disease carrier.
"These animals are essential for tick survival," Goodfriend said.
The county’s woodlands and overgrown grass contribute to the Lyme disease problem, as well.
"As the county’s population grows, more and more people come in contact with ticks," he said.
LOUDOUN COUNTY RESIDENTS are at risk of contracting the disease.
"The incidence in Loudoun County are 20 times greater than the Virginia average," Goodfriend said.
The more time Loudoun County residents spend outside, the greater risk of contracting the disease. All county residents should perform tick checks daily.
"Go over your body, check for ticks," he said. "If you find one, the best way to remove it is with tweezers. Get all the body parts out."
In order for a tick to infect a human, Goodfriend said the tick must be on the skin for at least 36 hours.
THERE ARE SEVERAL signs of Lyme disease. Eighty percent of people infected with the disease will notice a red skin rash with a white center at the site of the bite resembling a bull’s eye, Goodfriend said.
Others signs include flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue, fever, headache and joint pain, and memory loss.
If these symptoms occur, it is important to receive medical treatment immediately.
"Get treatment early. The sooner, the better," Goodfriend said.
If Lyme disease is not treated within several weeks or months, irreversible nervous disorders, heart problems and joint problems may occur.
"It’s not that Lyme disease is a killer, but it causes a lot of pain and suffering particularly in the joints," he said. "And joint damage is permanent."
Loudoun County residents aren’t the only community members at risk of contracting Lyme disease. Dogs, cats and horses are at risk, too.
Loudoun County Animal Shelter spokesperson Inga Fricke encourages pet owners to be "vigilant."
"Check your pets for ticks everyday," Fricke said. "Humans can cover themselves outside. Pets can’t."
If pet owners find a tick on their pet, remove it immediately, making sure to remove the head as well as the body, Fricke said. Then, clean out the wound with antiseptic.
If a pet seems lame or sluggish, Fricke advised owners to take their pet to the veterinarian immediately.
THERE ARE products on the market to protect pets from ticks.
"Be proactive with preventatives and check your pets for ticks everyday," Fricke said.
Veterinarians now offer Lyme disease vaccinations, but Fricke said that may not be necessary.
"Check with your vet to see what’s best for your particular pet," she added.
If a pet receives the Lyme disease vaccination from a veterinarian, it may test positive for the disease in the future.
The Loudoun County Health Department surveyed the county last year to determine how and where Lyme disease is contracted in Loudoun County.
"The bigger issue is ‘what’s the best solution,’" Goodfriend said. "We are working with the medical community to see how we can diagnose this early and treat it appropriately."