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Lyme disease: Danger hiding under Va.'s beauty

By Susan Allen

Springtime in Virginia is a jewel of fresh green landscapes, flowers of all colors and welcomed warmth from the sun, drawing our kids and families into the outdoors. As we enjoy this season, it's important to remember that underneath all this beauty lies the danger of ticks with Lyme disease.

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, and our awareness is especially important this year as the mild winter leads experts to predict more ticks. So it's time to ensure we educate ourselves on the signs and solutions for Lyme disease.

While most people have learned to look for Lyme disease with a "bulls eye" red mark on the skin, not every case of Lyme disease presents this symptom. Some victims of Lyme disease experience flu-like symptoms, including fever, fatigue and body aches, while more advanced cases of Lyme disease can bring arthritis symptoms and neurological problems.

It's important to check with health care professionals on any suspected symptoms of Lyme disease.

While we do things to protect our pets from fleas and ticks, they can still get Lyme disease. It's important to check our outdoor animals regularly to lower the risk for our furry family members. As a girl growing up with horses in Albemarle County and spending weekends at our family cabin in Shenandoah County, I've always been aware of the harmful effects ticks can have on animals and humans.

As parents, George and I want to ensure our three children can enjoy outdoor activities from hiking to fishing to horseback riding safer with knowledge about and protection from Lyme disease.

The Mid-Atlantic is a prime region for ticks, with portions of Virginia experiencing some of the highest rates of ticks and Lyme disease.

For these reasons, I participated in the Loudoun Lyme 5K this month and am promoting Lyme Disease Awareness Month - to bring awareness to our families, friends and neighbors about the risk, prevention and care of Lyme disease.

I encourage you to educate yourselves and your family about this serious disease and to find ways in your community to raise awareness and support research for Lyme disease treatment.

Together, we can take steps for a safer enjoyment of Virginia's beautiful outdoors.

Susan Allen is a former First Lady of Virginia, married to former Governor and U.S. Senate candidate George Allen.

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