Environmental Correlates of Lyme Disease Emergence in Southwest Virginia, 2005-2014

Paul M. Lantos, Jean Tsao, Mark Janko, Ali Arab, Michael E. Von Fricken, Paul G. Auwaerter, Lise E. Nigrovic, Vance Fowler, Felicia Ruffin, David Gaines, James Broyhill, Jennifer Swenson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in North America. Though human infection is mostly transmitted in a limited geography, the range has expanded in recent years. One notable area of recent expansion is in the mountainous region of southwestern Virginia. The ecological factors that facilitate or constrain the range of human Lyme disease in this region remain uncertain. To evaluate this further, we obtained ecological data, including remotely sensed data on forest structure and vegetation, weather data, and elevation. These data were aggregated within the census block groups of a 9,153 km2 area around the cities of Blacksburg and Roanoke, VA, an area with heterogeneous Lyme disease transmission. In this geographic area, 755 individuals were reported to have Lyme disease in the 10 yr from 2006 to 2015, and these cases were aggregated by block group. A zero-inflated negative binomial model was used to evaluate which environmental variables influenced the abundance of Lyme disease cases. Higher elevation and higher vegetation density had the greatest effect size on the abundance of Lyme disease. Measures of forest edge, forest integrity, temperature, and humidity were not associated with Lyme disease cases. Future southward expansion of Lyme disease into the southeastern states may be most likely in ecologically similar mountainous areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1680-1685
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of medical entomology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2021


  • Bayesian statistics
  • Lyme disease
  • epidemiology
  • geographic information system
  • remote sensing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • veterinary(all)
  • Insect Science
  • Infectious Diseases


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