The peak of summer means you're probably spending more leisure time
outdoors, but it also means that you should take extra precautions to
protect yourself from ticks. Although Lyme disease is primarily an East
Coast phenomenon, there are a number of confirmed cases in California
each year, as increasingly warm winters allow ticks to thrive year-round
and bring the disease into previously unaffected areas. Sonoma County,
with its mild climate and abundant parklands, averages around eight cases
of Lyme disease annually.
“Most people don’t think that Lyme disease happens on the West
Fred Drach, MD, a board-certified infectious disease and internal medicine specialist at
St. Joseph Health Medical Group. "This is simply not the case. And anytime anyone is exposed to outdoor
environments where ticks live, like woods, brush and fields, they are
at risk of tick bites and a number of tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease
and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. People don't need to be alarmed
– just aware."
In California, the most common transmitter of Lyme disease is the western
black-legged tick. Tick larvae and nymphs become infected after feeding
on infected rodents, birds, lizards and other small animals. Once a nymph
becomes an adult, it starts to feed on bigger animals, but both nymphs
and adults can bite you. An estimated 5 to 50 percent of tick nymphs can
transmit Lyme disease, while only 1 to 2 percent of adult ticks are carriers.
“Because nymphs are so small – the size of a poppy seed –
it’s a challenge to see them on bare skin. In many cases, a person
won’t even know they were bitten until they start showing symptoms,”
explains Dr. Drach. “Keep in mind, a tick has to be attached to
a host for at least 24 hours to fully transmit Lyme disease. So, the sooner
you find and remove a tick, the better your chances to avoid infection.
And, fortunately, the antibiotic treatments available for people that
have been infected are quite effective when given in the disease's
Lyme disease symptoms range depending on the stage of the infection and
can include fever and a distinctive bulls-eye rash. If left untreated,
Lyme disease can potentially lead to arthritis, irregular heartbeat and
Dr. Drach advises that, if you’re like most of us who like getting
back to nature in the summer, you may want to rethink your approach to
activities like gardening or hiking. Nymphs and adult ticks can't
fly or jump, so they wait for a host in grassy, wooded areas or in shrubs
in a position called “questing." This position allows them
to easily grab onto a passing host--or someone who's decided to lay
down in the tall grass and watch the clouds go by--where they can then
explore the ideal place to bite.
Here are some tips to keep ticks at bay:
Be vigilant when going outdoors. If you are hiking on a trail, be sure to walk in the center so you can
avoid contact with tall shrubs, grass or leaves.
Use tick repellent. Any repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET or picaridin will
go a long way in preventing bites. If you have small children with you,
be sure to apply it for them and avoid contact with eyes, hands and mouth.
Wear protective clothing. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants may not be your favorite hot-weather
outfit; however, covering exposed skin makes it easier to spot ticks when
they land on you before they bite. The lighter-colored the clothing, the
easier it is to spot tiny tick nymphs.
Do a tick-check when you're done. Before heading back from an outing, make a full inspection of your body,
your gear, and your pets to look for hidden ticks. Children should be
checked under their arms, in their hair, and in and around their ears,
legs and waist. Take a shower or bath when you get home.
What do you do if you’ve already been bitten?
Don’t panic. Since not all ticks are carriers, there might be a chance that your tick
bite is simply a bite. Once you dislodge the tick, in some cases, it’s
completely normal to see redness around the area from the tick’s
saliva. If you experience redness or rashes that last longer than 24 hours
after the bite, contact your doctor. “I’ve had many cases
where patients have come to me thinking they are infected with Lyme disease
when they were really just experiencing typical redness and swelling from
a bite. The important thing is just to stay calm, if need be you can consult
your doctor over the phone for peace of mind,” says Dr. Drach.
Remove the tick carefully. It’s important to follow protocol on this one--touching the tick
with a burnt match does not work. Using a tweezer, slowly and firmly grab
the tick close to your skin and pull it out. The aim is to force the entire
tick out from the skin. Once removed, rinse the area with soap and water,
then follow up with disinfectant.
here to find a St. Joseph Health primary care doctor or specialist in three
regions of the Western United States.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.