A private contractor began spraying an insecticide around the perimeter of a Loudoun County park Friday morning. It is an effort to control the spread of Lyme Disease, a serious illness that can affect the joints, the brain and sometimes the heart.
About 25,000 human cases of Lyme Disease are diagnosed or suspected in the U.S. annually, but some physicians believe the actual number of cases may be higher because at certain stages of the infection, Lyme Disease is difficult to detect.
Ground-level spraying began around 8:30 a.m. at Conklin Community Park in Loudoun County. The fertilizer and pesticide company TruGreen has a contract to spray insecticide in about a half dozen county parks.
The target is the blacklegged tick. It is this species of tick that spreads (to humans) the debilitating illness called Lyme Disease, first described in Lyme, Conn. The illness has now spread through New England, the mid-Atlantic states, and the upper Midwest.
In Virginia, Loudoun County is ground zero.
"There are approximately 132 jurisdictions in Virginia," said Loudoun Co. Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R -- Algonkian District). "And Loudoun has the highest increase in cases of Lyme Disease."
So, as part of a multi-pronged approach, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors has ordered the insecticide Talstar be applied to grassy park areas that border woods. (Ticks that live on deer sometimes gravitate into the park areas where people can become targets for the blood-sucking insects.)
A manager at TruGreen says individual homeowners in the area have been combating the ticks this way for several years.
"The products we use pose a negligible risk, meaning a risk too small to measure," explained Shane Shacklock, the general manager of a regional TruGreen office. "We typically just ask the homeowner to wait about two hours to let the treatment dry. Once it dries, it doesn't wash or rub off."
The park applications will take place only on weekdays when park usage is lower. Supervisor Volpe said some environmental groups have expressed concern, but her constituents overwhelmingly want protection from the ticks.
Part of the county's 10-point program against Lyme Disease will include further thinning of deer herds during controlled hunting seasons.
Late spring and early summer -- right now -- are when Lyme disease most often gets spread from ticks to humans. Health officials recommend avoiding hikes in tall grass, wear long sleeves and long pants while hiking, and use insect repellant.
If you get the characteristic bull’s-eye rash from a tick bite, seek treatment. If caught early, antibiotics can usually defeat the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease.