Governor sheds light on Lyme disease awareness

By Kim Walter

The Virginia Legislature has proclaimed May as Lyme Disease Awareness Month, and to help keep awareness on everyone’s minds, Gov. Bob McDonnell decided to shed a little light on the topic.

Last Thursday night, the Governor’s Mansion in Richmond glowed lime green, and Virginia’s first lady placed a decorative lime green bow at the entrance.

McDonnell, over the past several years, has made the fight against Lyme disease a priority, and this year he supported and signed the Lyme Disease Testing Information Disclosure Act of 2013.

Because of the approved legislation, Virginia is now the first state to require health care providers to notify anyone tested for Lyme disease that current laboratory testing can produce false negatives, especially in the early stages of the disease.

The National Capital Lyme Disease Association, a 501(c)(3) to further public awareness of the disease, provided the bow to the residence. The organization also sent green bows to state senators and delegates who spoke in support of the bill, including Del. Barbara Comstock, R-34 and Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-27.

According to Dr. Charles Devine, director of the Lord Fairfax Health District, the governor’s awareness efforts, as well as those of organizations and individuals, should be applauded.

“When it comes to Lyme disease, I have to mention the importance of being aware,” he said Friday.

May is also a good time to get people thinking about the disease, since the greatest incidence of it takes place during June, July, May and August, in order of the highest numbers of reports, Devine said.

He said it’s particularly important that people living in the district be aware since they are part of an “endemic region.”

“That means that we are in a part of the state with a lot of Lyme activity,” Devine said.

Since 2007, the number of reported Lyme disease cases per year in the health district range from 46 to 185 – numbers fairly typical of endemic areas, he added.

As of March 31, there were 11 reported cases in the district. Devine said it’s important to remember that Lyme disease can happen any time during the year, though it does take place more in the summer months.

“It has to do with the fact that ticks in the nymph stage are most associated with spreading Lyme disease, and this is the time of year when they are out there and dominant,” he said. “Of course, it’s also the time of year that people are out and about in the tick’s habitat.”

While Devine can’t predict what kind of year it will be in terms of reported Lyme cases, he said he knows that the end number depends on how well prepared people are, and how well they avoid the tick bite in the first place.

He said it also depends on how thorough individuals are when they check for ticks after being out in nature since it takes about 36 hours for a tick to attach itself and transmit the disease.

If a person does find a tick on clothes or running across his skin, then Devine suggests he simply get the tick off and dispose of it. If a tick manages to bite a person, Devine suggests using tweezers to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull straight up.

“It’s important that you don’t grab the tick’s stomach or lower body, because then there’s a chance that the disease can be injected,” Devine said.

After the attached tick is removed, it’s important to then wash and dry the impacted area. From there, one should still remember that not every tick carries Lyme disease.

Devine said it can take anywhere from three to 30 days for the typical ‘bulls-eye rash’ to appear. The rash would usually show up at the site of the tick bite, but it can appear elsewhere on a victim’s body. While 70 to 80 percent of patients will have the rash, others might just have symptoms including a fever of varying severity levels, according to Devine.

“From a physician’s point of view, it is just very important that if a patient comes in with typical symptoms or is just worried that they may have Lyme disease, then they need to report their history,” he said. “We basically need to know their history with ticks, like when they might have come in contact, or when they think they may have been bitten.”

Thankfully, physicians, emergency room and urgent care personnel are aware that the disease often turns up this time of year, and likely will be asking the typical questions of patients with symptoms.

Devine encourages those going out to enjoy the lovely weather to be prepared.

“Put the tick repellant on both your skin and your clothes, tuck your pants into your socks and wear the light colored clothing,” he said. “The light colors don’t repel ticks, but they do make the ticks easier to spot.”

Of course, he said, it’s always important to do an intense, thorough self-check for lingering ticks after coming inside.

“I can’t say it enough,” he said. “I think with increased awareness, education and exposure, this disease will, hopefully, naturally decrease over time.”

For general information on prevention, tick removal and statistics, go to www.cdc.gov/lyme.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com