According to the California National Park Service, because of the “persistent blood-sucking behavior” of ticks they are able to infect people with not only debilitating illness but also life-threatening diseases. Outdoor enthusiasts in Northern California need to take extra precautions when visiting Bay Area parks and this includes bikers, hikers, runners, and families walking with small children. Not only are the parks testing positive for a high incidence of ticks carrying Lyme disease, the same ticks are also testing positive for a new human pathogen with as of yet unknown health effects. These disease-ridden ticks now represent a double threat to anyone who is bitten by them and extra precautions are in order.
According to a Stanford University study that will be published in Emerging Infectious Disease in March, Borrelia burgdorferi, which is the bacterium responsible for causing Lyme disease and the new mystery human pathogen, Borrelia miyamotoi have been found in at least 2 percent of the ticks sampled and in every single park tested.
Lyme disease is already the number one “arthropod-borne” or tick transmitted disease in the United States. With the appearance of a new pathogen, the threat of a double whammy infection from disease-ridden ticks may be a possibility and California hikers and bikers will need to exercise caution when frequenting parks and nature trails. The same cautions that apply to those areas apply to campgrounds and informal hiking or biking trails as well as the threat of tick infestation is not determined by government funding or boundaries.
Over the past ten years, more than 1,000 cases of Lyme disease have been reported in California. However, because many people do not realize they have been bitten by a tick or are not familiar with the symptoms of Lyme disease, many cases may have gone undiagnosed.
According to California State Parks, the symptoms of Lyme disease include an initial mild illness with flu-like symptoms. There can be a “red expanding rash”, significant muscle and joint pain, fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, a weakening of the facial muscles and even cardiac irregularities.
If left untreated, Lyme disease can develop into “severe chronic heath problems” and it is critical to get treatment at the earliest suspicion that a tick bite has resulted in an infection. Even if the tick culprit is never found or a bite site located, if a person has been in areas populated with ticks and any of the above symptoms develop, a medical consult is in order.
Prevention is key and although it may seem inconvenient, especially in warmer weather, long-sleeved shirts, pants instead of shorts and the application of a tick repellent can go a long way towards preventing a disease-ridden blood sucking tick from ever making skin contact. A guideline that seems to be followed only rarely is the pants tucked into the tops of boots or socks maneuver. In this case the old adage, “It is better to look good than feel good” does not hold true. It might look a little goofy, but the extra precaution might prevent a tick from crawling up a pant leg and getting quite personal in the bite site that it chooses.
California hikers, bikers and outdoor enthusiasts can take additional measures to protect themselves from the threat of disease-ridden ticks by vigilantly conducting a body check after every outdoor excursion. Wearing light-colored protective clothing and applying repellents to prevent ticks from coming in contact with skin and scalp will also minimize the risk of exposure. Check and double-check children and pets for ticks and lastly, keep to the middle of trails to avoid brushing up against foliage that may harbor ticks just waiting to latch on to a nice warm meal.
By Alana Marie Burke
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