Vineyard-goers coasting along Route 9 in western Loudoun may notice a small addition to wineries' entryways this month: a lime green bow adorning the winery's signage.
Spearheaded by Sunset Hills Vineyards managers Jaclyn O'Brien and Meredith Wilson, roughly half of Loudoun's 40 wineries are banding together in May to raise awareness for Lyme disease, a prevalent and puzzling condition in the county and throughout Northern Virginia. The D.C. Wine Country campaign, part of the Ribbons Across America effort, corresponds with national Lyme Disease Awareness month.
While some local tasting rooms are aiding the cause strictly from an awareness standpoint, others have pledged to donate a portion of sales to Lyme disease research organizations. For instance, Tarara Winery is donating 5 percent of all proceeds from sales of its chardonnay, while Sunset is directing revenues from its “wine margaritas” -- the flavor of the month, of course, being “Lyme.”
“We thought it would be positive and beneficial if the Loudoun County wineries came together to spread awareness for a disease that affects our industry, specifically those who work in the vineyards and fields, but that many people don't know a lot about,” O'Brien said.
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria people acquire after being bitten by ticks infected with the organism Borrelia burgdorferi. Deer are the preferred hosts of the ticks, and the size of the tick population parallels that of the deer population, according to Wikipedia.
Carrying one of the highest infection rates in the state, Loudoun has seen a steady rise in Lyme cases over the past 15 years. In 1999, there were a reported 29 instances in the county. By 2005, the cases increased to 106 and then up to 261 in 2011. The 2011 figure represented 25 percent of the cases in Virginia.
Living with Lyme herself, O'Brien said the local outreach campaign, at its core, is about sparking a conversation. Like a large percentage of those stricken with Lyme, O'Brien went through months of discomfort and confusion before finally receiving the correct diagnosis. The disease, which can cause near-debilitating fatigue, headaches and affect the central nervous system, is notorious for mystifying physicians. O'Brien visited six doctors before finally being tagged with Lyme.
“For people who have known a coworker, friend or family member with this disease, they already know that awareness for this disease is almost nonexistent,” she said, “so anything we can do to bring awareness to the disease itself or its symptoms will be beneficial for our area.”
O'Brien hopes to grow the program and make it an annual affair here in D.C.'s Wine Country.
Lacey Huber, a manager at Stone Tower Winery in Leesburg, which is participating in Ribbons Across America, said several of her family members have been diagnosed with Lyme, making the campaign close to home for her.
"For people in Ashburn and in the eastern part of the county, we're kind of their big backyard,” Huber said. “So we can play an important role in making sure people know about Lyme.”
Check out recent Wine Wednesdays below:
-"Wine Wednesday: Local sparklers arrive just in time for warmer weather" -- April 2
-"Wine Wednesday: Record year for Loudoun wine at Governor’s Cup" -- March 5
-"Wine Wednesday: Give me the gas!" -- Feb. 5