Outdoor activities are a big part of summer fun, but concerns about ticks and Lyme disease has some outdoor enthusiasts thinking twice about their hiking plans. California may not have the highest rates of Lyme disease in the country, but more than 1000 cases have been reported in the past ten years, and 83 cases were confirmed in the Golden State in 2015. Only 22 states reported more confirmed cases that year. With heavy rains last winter, the tick population is expected to thrive, which means there will be more disease-carrying ticks to avoid.
According to the California State Parks website, in California it is the western black-legged tick (also known as deer tick) that transmits the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease. The black-legged tick is common along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada and in coastal regions. Dog ticks and lone star ticks may also be carriers of Lyme. Lone star ticks are found throughout Eastern and Southeastern states. And dog ticks are rare on the Pacific Coast.
Tick vs. Insect
Contrary to assumptions, ticks aren’t classified as insects. They are arachnids, and like their spider cousins, ticks lay eggs and have eight legs. They don’t spin webs, jump or fly and they don’t drop on people from trees. Black-legged ticks, specifically, thrive in moist environments like rotting logs or leaf litter. You are most likely to pick up a black-legged tick walking through grasses or shrubs.
Ticks must eat the blood of other animals—birds, reptiles, mammals or amphibians, they’re not picky—in order to survive. Larval ticks, about the size of a pinpoint, typically choose birds and rodents as their hosts. Nymphs and adults will feed on humans, but only the ones who are infected pose a risk.
Ticks can transmit as many as 15 different diseases to humans, some of which can be fatal. Fortunately, most tick-transmitted illnesses are mild and result in flu-like symptoms that resolve without treatment.
Symptoms of Tick-Transmitted Disease
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease are the two most common conditions caused by ticks in the U.S. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever was discovered in Montana, but is most common in Georgia, North and South Carolina and the Appalachians. Symptoms of tick-transmitted disease, including Lyme disease should be taken seriously. If you experience any of the following symptoms after being in potential “tick country” or being bitten by a tick, call your healthcare professional:
· Fever, chills or muscle aches reminiscent of flu symptoms
· A rash, especially one that appears at the site of a tick bit
· Swollen lymph nodes
· Stiff neck and joint pain
· Heart palpitations
· Pain, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
Protect Yourself from Ticks and Lyme Disease
Prevent Lyme disease and protect your pet from ticks by taking a few simple precautions. Make sure your pet receives regular flea/tick prevention and check their coat for ticks during grooming. Wear long-sleeved shirt when hiking, and tuck your pants into your boots and your shirt into your pants—tuck everything! Wear a hat, and apply tick repellent to your clothing.
Check yourself and everyone in the family for ticks when you return home. Look carefully in the hairline, behind earlobes, under breasts, under arms, in the groin, at the belt line and behind the knees.
If you do find a tick, don’t panic. Use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, and pull straight out with a steady motion. Wash your hands and treat the bite with antiseptic. If pain or redness appears at the bite site, consult your doctor right away.