“Tick Time Bomb” to Explode in California This Summer

Image: Erik Karits/Pexels

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

The Weather Channel broadcast that this summer, the U.S will be a “tick time-bomb,” in that ticks will afflict much broader swathes of the country than in years previous. Even in dry states like California, which is in a historic drought, researchers have been seeing more ticks than ever, even on its coasts. 

The Bay Area Lyme Foundation published a study that suggested that disease-carrying ticks, which were thought to live primarily in woodlands, have also spread to the coastline, occupying sand dunes and chaparral. The study found that in these environments, 31% of ticks carry harmful bacteria. 

 

Why This Matters: It’s a surprise that disease-carrying ticks have moved into coastal chaparral. But researchers have found ticks in all stages of development, from larvae to adults, occupying the grass that grows near the beach. 

Experts think that climate change is at fault. Ticks love warm and humid areas — and while California is dryer than ever, its winters are getting shorter, making ticks active for longer. As the world heats up, there will be more habitats favorable to ticks, which will spread Lyme disease even further. 

Lyme disease can cause serious long-term effects, and can even be fatal if left untreated, as it spreads to the joints, heart, and nervous system. Pacific Coast ticks and American dog ticks are also spreading through the California coast, and carry spotted fever pathogens and occasionally transmit tularemia, a rare infectious disease that attacks the skin, eyes, lymph nodes, and lungs.

 

Tips for Ticks: Though disease-spreading ticks are present at higher numbers than ever, there is some good news. Of the 48 species of ticks in California, only six suck human blood, and just one, the western black-legged tick, carries the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Moreover, last year there were just under 50 confirmed and probable Lyme disease cases in the state, a lower number than the average 100 cases of Lyme reported in the state.

Still, there are ways to stay safe, especially as people eagerly enjoy outdoor activities after a year of staying at home. Hunter Cornick, for example, who lives in rural Nova Scotia where dog tick populations have been exploding in recent years, invented a 99% effective method to prevent tick bites: he duct-taped his pants into his socks to keep the bugs from climbing up his legs. 

You can also deter ticks with a substance called permethrin, which you spray on your clothes and let them dry for a day. When ticks come in contact with the substance, they die immediately. 

The author of the Bay Area Lyme Foundation’s tick study, Dan Salkeld, told SF Gate: “This is a manageable problem if you try to prevent tick bites. Wear repellent. Do tick checks. Shower when you get home. And watch your health. If you do have fevers or headaches, advocate to a physician that there’s potential for tick-borne disease.”

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