Dr. Mark Horton, director of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), today warned individuals who are working or playing outdoors in the fall and winter months to be on the alert for ticks that may carry bacteria that cause Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.
“Although most people associate ticks with summer outdoor activities, adult western black-legged ticks are more likely to be encountered in late fall and winter,” Horton said. “With California’s temperate climate, adult ticks are abundant throughout the cooler months between late October and March.”
Ticks are small, insect-like creatures most often found in naturally vegetated areas. (See photo.) There are many different kinds of ticks in California, but only the western black-legged tick transmits Lyme disease. This reddish- brown tick is found in most California counties, but is more common in the humid northwestern coastal areas and the western slope of the northern Sierra Nevada.
Ticks can be found in tall grass and brush in urban, suburban and rural settings. Adult ticks climb to the tips of vegetation, often alongside trails or paths, and wait for a host to brush against them. They attach to animals and humans and feed by sticking their mouthparts into the skin and sucking blood for up to several days. Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis and babesiosis, are transmitted while the tick is attached and feeding.
If you find a tick, remove it with tweezers by grasping it close to the skin and applying a steady upward pressure to make sure the entire tick is pulled free. Do not use insecticides, lighted matches, gasoline, petroleum jelly or liquid soaps to remove ticks, as these techniques may cause injury and are ineffective. After the tick is removed, individuals should wash their hands and apply antiseptic to the affected area. Pets should be regularly checked for ticks.
Symptoms of Lyme disease can include a spreading rash usually accompanied by flu-like symptoms, such as fever and body aches. Painful redness that occurs less than 24 hours after a tick bite and does not spread is more likely to be a reaction to the tick’s saliva. Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics, and most patients recover completely without complications if treated early during the course of the infection. However, in some people, if left untreated, symptoms can progress into arthritis or nervous system disorders.
The following practices can reduce the chance of being bitten by ticks:
• Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Tuck pant legs into boots or socks and tuck shirts into pants.
• Wear light-colored clothing so ticks can be easily seen.
• Apply a repellent, such as DEET, registered for use against ticks. Always follow directions on the container and be careful when applying to children. Before entering tick habitat, permethrin spray may be applied to clothing to kill ticks.
• Stay in the middle of the trail. Avoid trail margins, brush and grassy areas.
• Inspect yourself frequently for ticks while in tick habitats. Once out of tick habitat, thoroughly check your entire body for ticks up to three days after being in tick areas. Parents should examine their children, especially on the scalp, hairline and skin folds.
Individuals should consult their physician immediately if symptoms similar to those described for Lyme disease develop within one to several weeks after being bitten by a tick. Additional information on Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases is available on the California Department of Public Health Web site at http://www.cdph.ca.gov or by calling (916) 552-9730.