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Board approves recommendations to combat Lyme; fall tick spraying uncertain

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Responding to a recommendation by the Loudoun Lyme Disease Commission, the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to seek more information about the effectiveness, environmental impact and cost of spraying a tick-targeted insecticide on public property before conducting more spraying this year.

The recommendation was one of nine presented to the board by county officials and the Lyme commission, which was established six months ago as part of an initiative to address Loudoun County’s high rate of Lyme disease. The commission was charged with helping to implement a 10-point plan to reduce the spread of the disease in Loudoun, which has the highest rate of Lyme infection in Virginia.

David Goodfriend of the county Department of Health and Samuel Shor, chairman of the Lyme commission, reported that the county had added a prominent link to information about Lyme disease to the county Web site, conducted a survey to determine key risk factors among those who had contracted Lyme disease and completed a pilot program that sprayed a bifenthrin-based insecticide at nine county parks in the spring.

At a public input session before Tuesday’s board meeting, several speakers urged the board to continue its efforts to fight Lyme-infected ticks, including the spraying of insecticide in areas considered hot spots for tick infestation.

Ashburn resident Jennifer Albright appealed to the board to “spray our schools . . . no child deserves this.”

Lyme disease is “killing our county,” Albright said. “It is all around us, and until it touches you personally, it is easy to ignore it.”

Although supporters of spraying say it is necessary to help prevent infection, especially among children, opponents question its effectiveness and express concerns about its impact on the environment. County beekeepers have also said the use of the insecticide poses a significant threat to foraging honeybees.

Supervisors have consistently expressed unanimous support for the Lyme initiative, but several said Tuesday that it is important to proceed thoughtfully.

Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) reminded board members that they are “stewards of taxpayers’ money” and should consider the most efficient way to conduct the spraying with limited funds.

“We need to understand, we need an integrated pest management plan when it comes to ticks and Lyme disease,” Buona said.

The county should take a step back, bring in experts and assess the best way forward, he said. “I am not saying with this motion, don’t spray. What I’m saying is, do it right.”

Schor told supervisors that experts would be brought in as soon as possible to help assess the effectiveness of the spring spraying and determine the most critical areas to treat with insecticide.

“The goal under the circumstances is to do tick drags, to identify in a specific location what the concentration of the ticks are and the disease burden within the ticks, and then identify . . . the best areas to spray,” he said.

Depending on the outcome of such assessments and how quickly they are done, the board could vote to conduct more spraying in the fall.

If additional spraying is conducted, the Lyme commission recommended that the county use a deltamethrin-based insecticide. Compared with the bifenthrin-based spray used in the spring, deltamethrin is considered less toxic to wildlife.

The Lyme commission’s recommendations were initially approved by the county Finance/Government Services Committee last week. At that meeting, Goodfriend told county leaders that although the commission recommended additional spraying this year, county staff members did not.

After contacting officials in other jurisdictions that also have high rates of Lyme disease, Goodfriend said, there was little evidence to show that spraying had made a significant difference.

“There’s a sense that people have already looked at this, and it didn’t add value. It didn’t protect people more than not doing it,” he said.

Spraying for ticks is not the only controversial item included in the county’s 10-point action plan. At the committee meeting, Goodfriend and Shor also acknowledged the complexity of compiling a list of recommended doctors who specialize in the treatment of Lyme disease.

Rather than listing specific doctors, Goodfriend said, the county Web site directs residents to the American Lyme Disease Foundation and two local hospitals for additional information.

“From the health department’s perspective, I don’t feel confident to vet doctors myself in terms of their qualifications,” Goodfriend told the committee.

“There is an issue in relation to those folks that have a different interpretation of the management of Lyme disease and how to get that information forward to the public,” Shor said. “We’re in the process of trying to work out a mechanism by which that can be done in a way that is not going to create further problems. It’s a very political issue, unfortunately.”

Among those involved with Lyme disease policy, there is significant disagreement about the best way to approach treatment of the disease. Some advocates, including Michael Farris, chancellor of the conservative Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, and chairman of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s (R) Lyme disease task force, have been outspoken critics of conventional approaches to Lyme treatment.

Farris said that testing methods are highly unreliable and that intravenous antibiotic treatment should be considered as a legitimate method for dealing with “chronic Lyme infection.” But Lyme experts with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said long-term intravenous antibiotic treatment shows no substantial benefit and could be dangerous to patients.

The Loudoun Lyme commission has not taken a formal position on guidelines for the treatment of the disease.

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