Governor warns of lyme disease as tick season continues

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - After creating a lyme disease task force, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell announced May is lyme disease awareness month.

Governor McDonnell said the decision is a reflection of an unpleasant and growing reality in the picturesque state; ticks are passing Lyme and other diseases at an alarming rate.

There are three things you can do to prevent from being bitten by a tick: keep your grass cut, get brush and debris off your property and avoid rubbing against plants.

Ticks are ambushers, so they are just waiting to latch on to you and your pets.

Friday morning Sarah Coleman and her dog Wawa spent the day outside. She loves to garden. But during the warmer months, she doesn't dare go deep into her backyard. There are more plants back there and Coleman knows that creates a greater opportunity to have a tick sink into her skin.

"I know how serious it is, with the lyme disease from it," said Coleman as she tended to her garden.  But she admitted, in the two years she's spent outside caring for her plants she hasn't been bit. " I haven't had any problems with ticks. I haven't had to spray."

If she did have a tick problem, Mike Likens, the Director of the Chesterfield County Extension Office, said spraying chemicals is not the answer.

"Research has shown that if you spray your backyard, they're going to go away for a little bit, but they're coming right back," Likins said. "Because you've done nothing to change the environment."

Likens explained there are four types of ticks in Virginia.

"But I think the one everybody worries about is the deer tick." Likins said the deer tick is known to spread lyme disease. Currently no one in Virginia is tracking the deer tick population.

"And certainly you'll get some homeowners who say oh I've had more ticks this year than last year, or whatever," said Likins.

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Lyme disease is the fastest-spreading tick-borne disease in the United States. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded 38,500 new cases in 2009,  but acknowledge that they greatly under-count the number of cases, estimating that only one in ten cases is reported, putting the number of actual cases occurring annually at around 300,000. Notably, Lyme Disease has been reported in every single state in the United States.

1. People contract Lyme disease bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, from the bite of an infected tick, most commonly what are known as "deer ticks".  They are very common in Virginia.  These ticks, especially in May when in their "nymph" form, can be as small as a freckle or pinhead.  Hence, many people never even see the insect or recall being bitten.  Although the height of Lyme Disease season extends from April through November, they can infect humans during other times of the years as adults.

2. Many have probably heard of the "Bull's-eye Rash" (erythra migrans) as the only sign of Lyme infection.  However, it is estimated that only 43% of Borrelia-infected patients develop this rash.  Unfortunately, even patients who heed the rash alert do not always receive correct medical advice for several reasons.  Among reasons for misdiagnoses are:

3. Lyme Disease if often called "The Great Imitator".  Medical studies suggest that Lyme Disease can mimic symptoms of many serious other conditions; e.g., multiple sclerosis, ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease, lupus, Parkinsons', and Alzheimer's.  Confusion with these diseases, plus Lyme disease's association with chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, concentration and memory problems further obstructs accurate diagnosis.

4. Diagnostic tests are notoriously unreliable resulting in numerous false negatives. Doctors typically adopt a 2-tiered approach to testing, so that if the first tier test, the Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), results are negative, further testing with the more specific and more accurate a more specific laboratory technique, known as  immunoblotting, is used.  In the case of Lyme, it is the Western blot, which identifies specific antibody proteins.

It is important to note that both types of the tests described above are believed to be, even according to the Center for Disease Control.  Several empirical studies have put the average of less than 50% reliability.

5. If not treated promptly and accurately, Lyme Disease can become a chronic infection.   Further impeding both accurate diagnosis and treatment, are ongoing controversies regarding persistent Lyme disease within the medical community.  Commonly, misdiagnoses delay proper treatment, which has proved to be seriously detrimental to patient health.

Symptoms: When the Lyme infection persists, the original vague flu-like symptoms are often replaced with a myriad of issues that can include Bell's palsy, sore, swollen joints, body aches, pain and severe headaches, swollen lymph nodes, cognitive impairment, and many debilitating neurological and cardiologic problems.     When symptoms are not fully resolved after a short course of antibiotics, patients and their doctors commonly face increasing frustration.  To attempt to address these persisting symptoms, often referred to as "post-Lyme syndrome," some doctors prescribe symptomatic relief, including painkillers and anti-depressants which do little to address the core problem of an ongoing infection.

Many practitioners have documented excellent, long-term results and a return to healthy functioning from extended antibiotic use.  Other practitioners report that their patients improve with extended antibiotic therapy, only to relapse when treatment is withdrawn.  They believe that this is evidence that Lyme disease is a persistent infection that can elude standard courses of antibiotics.

The medical community's division over the cause and cure of persistent Lyme symptoms illustrates the indisputable and immediate need for unbiased research.


The best way to avoid long-term consequences of Lyme and tick-borne illnesses is to prevent tick bites altogether. Use the following tips to minimize your exposure to disease-carrying ticks:

1. Avoid tick-infested areas when possible. Stay in the center of trails, avoiding contact with overhanging grass and brush, while walking in the woods. Trails are less attractive areas for ticks to live than dense underbrush.

2. Wear light colored clothing, long sleeves and pants, and tuck pants into socks. Wear a hat and tie back long hair to make it harder for ticks to attach to your scalp.

3. When walking or working in the woods for an extended period, use duct tape wrapped inside out around the ankles to trap ticks attempting to crawl up your legs.

4. Wear EPA-approved repellants appropriate for adult skin or children. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for application carefully; some repellants are designed for application to clothes and equipment only.

Permethrin is the only documented "kill-on-contact" spray; you apply it to your clothing and let dry.  It can be often be found as brand-name "Permanone" at outdoor shops, like Bass Pro, Gander Mountain, etc.  It can also be purchased online.

5. When coming in from outside activities where ticks may exist, put clothes in the dryer set on high heat for at least an hour. Ticks cannot survive the dry heat. They can survive exposure to hot water, so skip the washing machine and expose the clothing to the high heat of the dryer first.

6. After spending time outdoors where you might have been exposed to ticks, make sure you get undressed in a dry bathtub so you can spot ticks that fall off clothing. Immediately shower using a washcloth to knock off any unattached ticks and DO A ROUTINE TICK CHECK on yourself and children. Check dark, moist areas, hair and scalp, behind ears and knees, elbows, underarms, skin folds and the groin area. Though it may take time to institute tick checks into your family routine, over time it can become as simple as daily tooth brushing.


  1. Daily full-body tick checks of all family members and pets are your first and most important prevention against Lyme and tick-borne diseases.
  2. If you are diligent about checking for ticks, there is no need to limit or abandon your usual outdoor activities.
  3. Other possible tick-borne co-infections found in our area include bartonella, babesiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, ehrlichiosis, and tularemia. Please see our "Co-infections" section for more information about these diseases, including pictures of relevant rashes.
  4. If you have ever had Lyme disease, you are not immune and may contract the disease again upon re-exposure.