James Gathany / AP
As temperatures rise in California and people in search of respite toward the beach, there is a new concern beyond harmful sun rays and strong undercurrents: disease-carrying ticks that appear to be spreading along the Golden State coast.
The black-legged arachnids that bear Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme is common on the east coast, where they are usually found in wooded areas and tall grass. But new research shows that blood-sucking creatures are also able to thrive along the west coast, even though experts do not exactly know why or how.
An unexpected home in California
Dan Salkeld, a biology researcher at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, led a four-year study that found ticks on beaches along much of northern California, from Mendocino County down to Monterrey County. They also appear to be moving further south, including to Malibu, Manhattan Beach and Newport Beach, Salkeld told NPR-affiliated KCRW – although he notes that the threat of Lyme disease is minimal in those areas.
“Three combined studies done by other researchers … showed that one in 5,000+ ticks is actually infected. So the risk in Southern California is really low,” he said.
According to research in Northern California, Salkeld said about 4% of adult ticks – which are larger and easier to detect – are carriers of the bacterium.
Still, the coastal shrubs and grasses are surprisingly new habitat for the disease because these ecosystems are not home to the traditional reservoir hosts.
Ticks alone do not carry the bacteria that cause Lyme. For this to happen, they need to draw blood from a mammalian host that may have B. burgdorferi. On the east coast, it is commonly deer and white-footed mice. In California, it will include deer as well as western gray squirrels, voles and mice – none of which live in grasslands by the ocean.
Lyme Disease cases are soaring in California
“We have known that there are more ticks in more places with more pathogens than most people are commonly aware of,” said Lia Gaertner, director of education and outreach for the Bay Area Lyme Foundation, which funded Salkeld’s research.
Because of his work, Gaernter added, “Now we are able to match what we see from personal experience and hearing from doctors and hearing from patients.”
Ronald Owens, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Health, told SFGate that there were fewer than 50 confirmed and likely Lyme Disease cases by 2020. That’s less than half of what is typically reported, he said.
But Gaernter believes that it is a sadly inaccurate method of counting cases – which doctors in many cases are unable, unwilling or untrained to identify or treat.
A 2018 report on Quest about Lyme disease says that cases in California increased by 195% from 2015 to 2017, and that the infection that causes the disease was found in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approx. 476,000 Americans are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease each year.
Lyme Disease Symptoms And How To Protect Yourself
Typical symptoms of the disease include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, swollen lymph nodes and skin rash.
But in the case of the latter, Gaertner warns not to rely on the appearance of the “bullseye” -shaped rash that people have been told about for decades.
“It’s a myth that any Lyme disease infection comes with that kind of rash. In fact, most rashes are solid, red oval rashes, so people should not think they do not have it if they do not see that piece of bull,” she said. . said.
It can also be incredibly difficult to spot a cross, especially if they are in the nymph stage. Salkeld described them as the size of poppy seeds, while Gaertner said they can be as small as a period on a computer screen.
In both cases, they are as dangerous as adult ticks to spread a variety of diseases and can celebrate for three to four days. So it is imperative to do a full body and head check using a magnifying glass or a smartphone magnifying glass after an outing, according to Gaertner.
She recommends replacing dark leggings with light-colored clothing to make it easier to see even the smallest creatures and use permethrin tick repellent on bags, shoes and socks, which should always be pulled over trouser cuffs to prevent direct access to one’s legs. “And always walk on the designated path,” she says, adding that ticks like to “search” on top of tall grass, “and wait for a chance to ride a ride.”
Saving ticks is super important
When you are at home, put clothes in a dryer with high heat for approx. 15 minutes to kill remaining tourist ticks. A thorough shower, scrubbing under the armpits, behind the knees and in genital areas, also helps to wash away any ticks that are not yet attached.
If you find a tick, “he only uses the right way to take it out with a sharp nose tweezers because you do not want it to throw the bacteria into you,” Gaertner said.
And after it has been removed, do not throw it away!
Instead, she says, wrap it in a damp paper towel, put it in a plastic sandwich bag and drop it in the mail for a cross-testing lab. Within 3 days, she said, they can tell what kind of cross it was, how long it had been feeding, and what kind of diseases it was carrying. “It’s super important information that people can share with their doctors,” Gaertner says.
Gaertner gave one last piece of advice to those who are now afraid to step out: “I know it all sounds scary, but knowing how scary it is makes it a lot safer for you.”