Ticks Don’t Take a Winter Break: Year-round Lyme Disease Risk in Northern California

Ticks and the diseases they carry can be a danger all year long, with the ticks that carry Lyme disease being especially hardy. Lyme disease can cause a range of health problems and understanding the risks is necessary to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Ticks on the West Coast

A joint study by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Vector-borne Disease Section and University of California, Berkeley, showed that ticks carrying Lyme disease can now inflict people on the west coast during winter as well as the summer months.

As Linda Giampa, executive director of Bay Area Lyme Foundation, highlights, “These results are critical as they offer proof that it is possible to become infected with Lyme disease in the (San Francisco) Bay Area at any time of the year.” The research indicated a shift in tick activity on the west coast compared to the northeastern parts of the US.

The study examined the peak activity of western black-legged ticks (Ixodes pacificus), where tick larvae were previously most active from April to June. However, these larvae are now found to be spreading until October. Adult ticks are active from October to May, and nymphal ticks (younger than adults but older than larvae) are active from January to October.

Lyme Disease: Signs and Symptoms

Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected black-legged ticks. Signs of early Lyme disease include:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • A rash that may or may not look like a bull’s-eye rash

If Lyme disease isn’t recognized or treated, it may progress to a more severe form. This can involve:

  • Severe joint pain and swelling
  • Widespread muscle pain
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Cognitive problems, such as memory issues and difficulty concentrating

Prevention and Protection

There is currently no vaccine available for Lyme disease, so prevention is essential. Giampa advises residents to take precautions year-round and learn the symptoms of Lyme disease.

Here are some ways you can protect yourself:

  1. Avoid tick-infested areas: Ticks live in wooded areas, tall grasses, bushes, and leaf piles. When walking through these areas, stay on trails and avoid tall vegetation.

  2. Wear protective clothing: Long pants, long-sleeved shirts, socks, and closed-toe shoes can help protect your skin. Wearing light-colored clothing can make it easier to spot ticks on your clothes.

  3. Use insect repellent: Apply an insect repellent that contains DEET to your skin and clothing. Be sure to follow the instructions for proper application and reapply when necessary.

  4. Perform tick checks: After spending time outdoors, thoroughly check your body for ticks, paying close attention to areas such as the scalp, ears, armpits, groin, and behind the knees.

  5. Shower after being outdoors: Showering within two hours of being outdoors can reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease, as it helps wash off unattached ticks and allows for a full-body tick check.

  6. Properly remove ticks: If you find a tick attached to your skin, remove it as soon as possible using fine-tipped tweezers. Grasp the tick firmly and pull it upward with steady, even pressure. After removing the tick, clean the bite area and your hands with soap and water.

By understanding the risks and taking appropriate precautions, you can reduce your chances of encountering ticks and contracting Lyme disease. Remember, it’s essential to know the symptoms and take action if you suspect a tick bite.

For more information on ticks in northern California, visit Bay Area Lyme. For additional information on Lyme disease, check out resources provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.