Roanoke, Va. -

People and Lyme Disease

More Virginians are getting Lyme disease. In fact Virginia has seen more cases in recent years than ever before.

In Montgomery County cases jumped from just two in 2005 to 57 last year, according to Dr. Molly O'Dell with the Virginia Department of Health

The Virginia Department of Health sent out a letter to medical professionals recently alerting them to be on the lookout for Lyme disease. The letter states that Lyme disease activity continues to expand its geographic range in Virginia.

In 2013, public health surveillance counted 1,307 confirmed and probable cases of Lyme disease, more than in any previous year, according to the letter from the Richmond office of Marissa J. Levine, MD, the State Health Commissioner.

Monday night Dr. Molly O'Dell with the Virginia Department of Health spoke to the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors at its regularly scheduled meeting.  She was asked to brief the board on Lyme disease in Montgomery County.  

"When Lyme disease was first identified it was really a Northeast phenomenon," Dr. O'Dell said.  "Now our most common workup is Lyme disease. "

Lyme disease is spread by the  tiny deer tick and where you live may affect whether you're more likely to get a tick bite and Lyme disease.

It turns out people who live close to a forest edge seem to have more cases of Lyme disease, according to Dr. O'Dell.   Preventing tick bites in the first place is important.

If a tick does attach to you it takes 48 to 72 hours for a tick to spread the disease.  If you see a tick on you it's crucial to get it off as quickly as you can.

Lyme disease is treatable.  Just this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instituted new recommendations, according to Dr. O'Dell. 

If a person has had a tick attached to his or her body for more than 48 hours, that person will  automatically be administered a round of antibiotics even if no symptoms are present, Dr. O'Dell explained.

Symptoms of Lyme disease.   How to remove a tick

Dogs exposed to Lyme disease also increasing

It's not just people affected by Lyme disease but dogs too.  Veterinarians are seeing more cases of dogs exposed to Lyme disease.

When dogs are outside they don't just get exercise and fresh air sometimes they get something else- ticks.  Ticks can carry Lyme disease- something veterinarians locally have seen more of in recent years.

"Really over the last three or four years we've seen a steady rise in the number of dogs who have shown positive for canine borreliosis what is Lyme infection," said Cave Spring Veterinary Clinic Veterinarian Dr. Steve Karras.

At the clinic located in Roanoke County they used to see one or two cases of Lyme disease exposure a month.   Now we're  seeing three or four a week, said Dr. Karras.

But exposure to Lyme disease doesn't usually make dogs sick, so why should you care if your dog is exposed?

"If the exposure was significant we usually like to treat them to make sure the infection is cleared," said Dr. Karras. "Because dogs that have significant exposure can have a problem with kidney disease and poor kidney disease down the road."

Veterinarians say preventing ticks from getting on your dog is key.  If one does latch onto your dog it takes 48 to 72 hours for a tick to transmit disease so getting ticks off your pet is important.

When dogs breathe out the carbon dioxide triggers ticks to jump on the dogs so that's why you tend to see most ticks around the head and ears and face, said Dr. Karras.

There is also a vaccine against Lyme disease that is available, however, making a decision on whether to vaccinate your pet is not always clear cut.

"It is not for every pet," said Dr. Karras.

That's because like Lyme disease itself, the vaccination's effectiveness is tough to prove.