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Tick-Borne Diseases

Tick-Borne Disease Prevention

What You Need to Know


  • Some ticks in California can spread diseases to people when they bite and feed on blood.

  • The BEST way to prevent diseases spread by ticks (also called “tick-borne diseases”) is to prevent tick bites. You can do this by using insect repellent and checking your body for ticks after spending time outside in areas where ticks are common.

  • If you are bitten by a tick, remove it right away with tweezers. Watch for symptoms, such as fever, rash, aches, and pains, and talk to a doctor right away if you feel sick after a tick bite.



When a tick bites, it can spread germs to people and make them sick.


Ticks become infected with germs (like bacteria, viruses, and parasites) when they feed on the blood of infected animals. Ticks can spread these germs to people and other animals when they bite and feed on their blood. Different types of germs spread by ticks can cause different diseases. Diseases spread by ticks in California include Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and Pacific Coast tick fever.

The best way to prevent diseases spread by ticks is to prevent tick bites in the first place. By keeping ticks off your body, you are less likely to get bitten and get sick from a tick bite.

Tick

What are ticks?

Ticks are small, spider-like creatures that bite and feed on blood for food. There are two main types of ticks: soft ticks and hard ticks (PDF). Tick bite prevention tips on this page are for hard ticks, which are usually found outside in wooded or brushy areas with tall grass, rocks, logs, and fallen leaves.

Ticks have different life stages, and they change size as they grow. Early life stages of ticks are tiny (about the size of a poppy seed). Full grown, adult ticks are about the size of an apple seed and can grow to the size of raisin after they feed on blood.

​P​​revent Tick B​ites

You can enjoy exploring the outdoors without the worry of tick bites if you practice steps to keep ticks off you.

Tick caution sign

Before you go outside ​​​

  1. Be aware – know where and when to expect ticks outside

    • Where: Ticks are common in areas with trees, shrubs, tall grass, rocks, logs, and fallen leaves. Ticks also live in oak, pine, and redwood forests.

      • In campgrounds and parks, ticks can be found on picnic benches and wood, so be aware when sitting or resting on picnic benches, logs, and even rocks.

      • If you live near natural areas, ticks can be in your backyard, neighborhood, or school yard.

      • Ticks that bite humans are found in different areas throughout the United States and California, so it is important to be aware of ticks when you travel.​

        Coastal scrubFallen logs and leaves in the forestOak savannah Mountain scrubPicnic bench under trees nearby a lake

    • ​​​​​​​When: In California, ticks can be found at any time of the year, though they are more abundant in spring and winter.

    • Certain outdoor activities can bring people in close contact with ticks.

      • ​​People who spend time outsid​​e in grassy, brushy areas are more likely to be bitten by a tick.

      • Examples of outdoor activities that can bring you in close contact with ticks include hiking, camping, gardening, playing in leaves, outdoor photography, and hunting.​​​​

      • ​If you work outdoors, more information is available: Protect Yourself from Ticks Where You Work fact sheet (PDF).

  1. ​Dress for protection

    • When possible, wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants to cover your skin and provide a barrier against ticks.

    • Wear light-colored clothes to help you spot any ticks that might be crawling on you.

    • Consider wearing clothes that are pre-treated with permethrin, a product that will kill or repel ticks.

  2. Apply tick repellent

    • Always read and follow label instructions when using repellent. Tick repellent bottle

    • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), or para-menthane-diol (PMD).

    • Apply EPA-registered repellent on clothes and exposed skin, especially from your waist down, on your legs, ankles, and feet – these are areas of your body that are more likely to come in contact with ticks while walking and sitting outdoors.

    • You can also treat clothing and hiking gear with 0.5% permethrin, a product that will kill or repel ticks. When using permethrin, be sure to follow the label instructions carefully. Apply permethrin to clothing and gear before putting them on. Do not spray permethrin on your skin.​​​​

Tick Tip

When you go out into areas where ticks live, bring a pair of tweezers or a tick removal device with you to remove any attached ticks.

tweezers

While you are outside​

  1. Check for tic​​ks Check your body closely for ticks

    • ​When: Check yourse​lf and others for ticks regularly while you are walking, hiking, or spending time outside, especially after brushing against tall grass and sitting on rocks, logs, and wooden picnic benches.  

    • Where: On your clothes and body

      • ​Ticks can be hiding in hard-to-see areas like your back, behind your knees, under your arms, and in your hair.

      • Ask for help checking the areas you can't easily see or reach, and help others check for ticks, too.

  2. Remove ticks: ​​​If you find a tick crawling on your clothes or skin, brush it off. If you find a tick attached to your skin, remove it​ right away.

What to look for: Ticks have a flat, teardrop-shaped body and are usually brown, reddish, or black, and may have gray or white markings. Ticks can be tiny, so look carefully, or ask someone to help you check the areas you can't easily see.  

Female & male ticks: Western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) and Pacific Coast tick (Dermacentor occidentalis) ​

After you return indoors

  1. Check for ticks again (i​ncluding on pets)

    • ​​After coming inside, check your whole body for ticks, including behind the knees, under the arms, and in the hairline, belt line, and groin areas. Use a mirror or have a family member help check the areas on your body that you can't easily see. If you find a tick attached to your skin, remove it right away.​

      • ​It's import​​ant to check pets and gear for ticks as well, since ticks can ride into your living space on pets, backpacks, and coats and then attach to a person later.

      • Parents should carefully exam​​ine their children.

    • ​Continue to check for ticks on your body and in your bedding for 3 days after being outside in areas with ticks.​​​​

  2. Dry clothes (if you have access to a clothes dryer)Clothes dryer

    • Without washing, put the clothes you were wearing while outside in a hot dryer for 10 minutes to kill any ticks that may be on your clothes. If your clothes are wet from being outside, put them in for 20 minutes. Then wash and dry the clothes as usual if needed. Heat will kill any ticks.​

  3. ​Shower​​

    • ​​Take a shower within 2 hours or as soon as poss​​ible after you return indoors. Shower and scrub your head and body to wash away any ticks that could be on your body. The shower is a great time to do a full-body tick check!

Learn more about preventing tick bites on people


It's important to prevent ticks on your pets because pets can carry ticks into the home that can bite a person later. Tick bites can also make pets sick.

  • Check your pets ​for ticks daily, especially after they spend time outdoors.

  • Treat pets wi​​th a tick preventive product to keep them from bringing ticks into the home.

    • Treat dogs and cats for ticks only as recommended by a veterinarian.

Learn more about preventing tick bites on pets​​​

​What To Do If You Are Bitten by a Tick

If you find a tick attached to your skin, here's what to do:

Use tweezers to remove ticks embedded in the skin.

  1. ​Remove the tick with tweezers​ (or a tick removal device)

  2. Watch for symptoms

  3. Talk to a doctor if concerned


​​​​How to Remove a​​ Tick

Th​ere are several tick removal devices on the market, but a plain set of fine-tipped tweezers works well.

  1. Use tweezers to grab the tick as close to your skin as possible.

  2. Slowly and steadily pull the tick up and straight out, away from your skin — do not twist or jerk the tick out. Tick removal graphic

    • ​​Using a slow, steady motion will help prevent damage to the skin at the bite site and will also prevent the tick's head/mouth-parts from breaking off and staying in the skin.

    • ​​If you think the head or mouth-parts are still in the skin, remove them with tweezers. If you can't easily remove the mouth-parts, leave the area alone and let the skin heal.

  3. Wash your hands and the bite area with soap and water. Then apply an antiseptic or antibiotic ointment to the bite area.

  4. Dispose of the tick — throw the tick away in the trash, flush it down the toilet, or save it for identification by a public health agency. Never crush a tick with your fingers. 

    • To save a tick for identification, take a picture of the tick (if possible) and then place it in a sealed bag or tape it to a piece of paper using clear tape.

    • Testing ticks removed from a person for the purposes of medical decision-making is not recommended by the California Department of Public Health.​​

Tick removal techniques that don’t work, such as applying nail polish, burning the tick with a match, or swabbing it with soap or petroleum jelly, should not be used because they delay removal and can also be dangerous. If you find a tick attached to your skin, it’s important to carefully remove it as soon as possible and not wait to “suffocate” the tick or make it detach by burning it. The longer you wait to remove a tick, the more likely that a tick can transmit germs that cause disease.

Symptoms of Tick-Borne Diseases

If you were bitten by a tick, it's important to watch for symptoms of disease that may appear up to 30 days after being bitten. Symptoms can include:

    • Body/muscle aches

    • Fever

    • Headache

    • Fatigue or extreme tiredness

    • Joint pain

    • Rash

      • Rashes can look very different depending on the person or type of disease. Some rashes are a spreading, painless red area, while others look like spots that cover certain parts of the body.

    • Stiff neck

    • Facial paralysis ​(being unable to move parts of your face)

If you develop any of these symptoms within 30 days of a tick bite, or 30 days after being in areas where ticks are common, see a doctor or healthcare provider right away. Be sure to tell the healthcare provider if you recently had a tick bite or were outside in areas where ticks may be present. Most tick-borne diseases can be successfully treated with antibiotics, especially if treatment is started early.​

Important

Some people may have a red, painful reaction at the tick bite site within 24 hours after being bitten by a tick. This is a reaction to the tick bite and usually goes away in a few days. This reaction does not mean you have been infected or have a tick-borne disease.

Talking to a Doctor or Healthcare Provider

When speaking to a ​​​doctor or a healthcare provider about your symptoms or the concern of a tick-borne disease, be sure to tell them about any recent travel or outdoor activities. Even if you don't remember being bitten by a tick, sharing information about your symptoms and recent outdoor activities can be helpful. 

Things to Tell Your Doctor​

  • Patient talking to a doctor If you notice any new lumps, bumps, or rashes on your skin

  • If you were bitten by a tick or saw a tick crawling on your skin

  • If you recently traveled within or outside of California

  • Outdoor activities you participated in either around home or while traveling (such as hiking, camping, or hunting)

  • If you have pets that go outside

A doctor may use this information to decide if you need testing for a tick-borne disease. A doctor may or may not decide to test you based on your symptoms and additional information.

More Information
Information for Specific Groups​

​ Homeowners

​ Outdoor Workers

 ​Hunters

 Parents and Kids

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