Last year, more than 1,300 Lyme disease cases were reported to the state’s Department of Health – making it the second-most prevalent communicable disease in Virginia. State health officials say those Lyme disease numbers could continue to rise.
Lyme Disease is an illness transmitted through the bite of the blacklegged tick, also known as the deer tick – as deer are the main carriers of the arachnids. Over the years, Lyme has continued to spread throughout the coastal states of the Northeast.
According to Dr. David Gaines, the state’s public health entomologist, the disease first appeared in Virginia about 20 years ago along the state’s Eastern Shore:
“And it has continued to spread south and westward into Virginia; predominantly occurring in the higher elevations of Virginia.”
Last year, the most Lyme cases were reported in places with higher elevations like Montgomery and Floyd Counties.
Gaines says those cases can be attributed to a specific variety of the blacklegged tick – one that is sensitive to temperature changes.
“We believe that this is related to the fact that these are northern variant blacklegged tick who can tolerate summer temperatures in places like Connecticut and Pennsylvania; so at higher elevations they at least have a slightly milder summertime climate.”
Most Lyme cases occur in suburban areas where people more frequently come into contact with deer. Those locations also have more difficulty dealing with deer populations, which is why Gaines predicts that the number of Lyme cases in those higher elevations won’t be dropping anytime soon.
Gaines says the best way to protect yourself is to tuck your pants legs into your socks where ticks are more likely to latch on:
“Ticks don’t drop out of trees; they are typically at shoe or sock level at most.”
Additionally, Gaines suggests treating clothing with an insecticide known as permethrin before heading outdoors to keep ticks at bay.
You can find a county-by-county breakdown of reported Lyme cases last year here.