The Effects of Land Cover Change on the Spatial Distribution of Lyme Disease in Northern Virginia Since 2005
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Lyme disease has been a growing problem in the United States over the last few decades, and is currently the most common vector-borne disease in the country. This research evaluates the land cover within specified counties of northern Virginia to find a correlation between forest fragmentation, suburbanization, and cases of human Lyme disease; as has been demonstrated in other Lyme endemic regions in the United States. Few studies have focused specifically on northern Virginia when considering the impacts of land cover change on Lyme disease. Discovered through the use of GIS and Geospatial Modelling Environment softwares, the cluster of Lyme disease cases in northern Virginia could be attributed to the forest fragmentation within the study region, which creates an ideal habitat for black-legged ticks and allows for an increase in Lyme disease transfer from vector to humans. The goal is for the research findings to be applicable to other regions with similar land cover types. Regions with similar characteristics would then be able to recognize the potential risk of human Lyme disease and implement ways to reduce the Lyme disease risk associated with suburban development. The purpose of this study is to answer the following research questions: 1) How has the spatial distribution of Lyme disease in Northern Virginia changed since 2005 with respect to land cover? 2) Which suburban communities are more at risk for Lyme disease when considering their land cover types and the increasing spatial distribution of Lyme disease?