Berkeley parks

Ticks hide in the forests and beaches of northern California. Here’s what you need to know

“Right now would be the time of year when you might be most at risk of having one of these human biters on your clothes,” said Bob Lane, professor emeritus of medical entomology at UC. Berkeley, who studied ticks in California. since the 1970s.

California is home to 48 species of ticks, puny invertebrates known to attach to animals — sometimes humans — for food. In some cases, as the parasites slowly gorge themselves on their host’s blood, they transmit bacteria, protozoa or viruses that can infect the host, especially with Lyme diseasewhich can be serious and debilitating.

Lyme disease, which is much more common on the East Coast, is an “uncomfortable but highly treatable disease,” according to the Bay Area Lyme Foundation. However, it can be difficult to diagnose and, if left untreated, can produce “crippling” joint and muscle pain, cognitive impairment, nausea, and heart and respiratory problems, according to the goal organization. non-profit. Ticks can also transmit microbes that cause Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and human granulocytic anaplasmosis, among other illnesses.

Of the local tick species, six are known to regularly attach to humans when looking for food, but only immature ticks known as nymphs and adult female western blacklegged ticks transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. California typically has fewer than 100 reported cases of Lyme disease each year, Lane said.

While the risk of contracting a serious tick-borne illness isn’t particularly high on the West Coast, it’s not something you want to risk, Lane said. People should do all they can to avoid arachnids, especially in places where Lyme cases are more prevalent, like northwestern California and the northern Sierra.

“Give ticks the respect they deserve and do whatever you can to avoid having direct contact with them,” Lane said.

Here are 10 facts and tips that could help you avoid ticks – and the diseases they can transmit – on your next outdoor adventure.

• Spring and early summer are when people are most likely to be bitten by a tick in California because that is when western blacklegged tick nymphs are more abundant. In clear, warm weather, adults are most active in the early morning and late afternoon, Lane said.

• Ticks are known to attach to humans from leaf litter, as well as rocks, logs, tree trunks and firewood. Keep in mind that disease-carrying ticks can inhabit coastal shrubbery near beaches, not just dense forests, Lane said. Ecotones, or transition zones between different types of vegetation, are also known to harbor more ticks.

• If you are on a trail, try to walk in the center of the trail, away from vegetation at the edges. If the trail is on a hillside, try to avoid contact with plants uphill, where human-biting adult ticks in the Bay Area have congregated, Lane said.

• Check your clothes—especially your pants, socks, and shoes—every hour or two while you’re in an area that might have a lot of ticks. Miticides or repellents that can be sprayed on skin or clothing provide an extra layer of protection. It’s best to have another person controlling you as well, if possible. Remove ticks before they have a chance to attach to your body.

• Pets can also suffer from tick bites and contract illnesses from infected ticks. Dogs in particular are “like vacuum cleaners picking up adult ticks,” Lane said. When you leave an area that may have ticks, check your pets and any clothing or equipment such as collars, harnesses, and leashes. Undetected and unfed ticks on a pet can end up in your bed or couch at home.

• When you return home, check your skin carefully. Ticks can be the size of a poppy seed or smaller. Try to shower a few hours after leaving a wooded area.

• If a tick is attached to your skin, remove it as quickly as possible. Use tweezers if you have them handy; otherwise, use a tissue or your bare fingers. Grasp the tick as close to its mouth as possible and slowly pull it out. Be very careful when removing a tick that has been attached for a while or is swollen with blood, as crushing a fed tick can increase the chance of transmitting disease-carrying germs.

• There’s a bit of a “grace period” between when a disease-carrying tick bites and when it can transmit the disease-carrying microbe, Lane said. In the case of Lyme disease, after being bitten, it can take at least two or three days for a western black-legged nymph to transmit the disease-causing bacteria to a human. Deer ticks, which are prevalent on the East Coast but not in California, can transmit bacteria faster, within a day or two.

• You may not see or even smell a tick when it bites you. Some tick species appear to have some kind of anesthetic compound in their saliva that makes the bite “unnoticeable,” Lane said.

• If you have been bitten, simply clean the wound with soap and water and, if possible, apply a mild antiseptic such as rubbing alcohol to disinfect the wound.

Andy Picon (he/him) is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @andpicon