Most people believe that it’s during the summer months of the year when their risk of being bitten by a tick is the greatest, as warm
temperatures draw many individuals to take part in outdoor activities. However, it’s during late fall and winter that county residents are more likely to encounter adult ticks that potentially carry germs that cause illness, including Lyme disease.
In Contra Costa County , there are three species of ticks that are commonly found to bite people. Of these, only one is considered to be the carrier and transmitter of the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, the Western black-legged tick. In California , the temperate climate allows the adults of these ticks to be active during the cooler months of the year, between October and March.
The Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control Districts recommends that people working or playing outdoors during these months watch for ticks and use precautions to reduce their exposure and risk of being bitten.
Ticks are found in all parts of the county, in urban, suburban, and rural areas. Often found alongside of trails and paths, adult ticks climb to the tops of grass vegetation and wait for a host or person to walk by and brush up against them. Ticks do not hop, jump, or fly, but rather grab a hold of the passing person and begin looking for a place to feed by sticking their mouthparts into the skin and sucking blood. They will often remain attached for up to several days or until feeding is finished, when they let go and drop off. Lyme disease and other germs are transmitted during the time that the tick is attached and feeding.
Early symptoms of Lyme disease may appear between 3-30 days after a tick bite and often include a spreading rash, which is usually accompanied by flu-like symptoms, such as fever and body aches. These symptoms may persist, change, disappear, and reappear intermittently for several weeks or months. Most cases of Lyme disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics, but early treatment is important.
The best preventive measure against Lyme disease and other tick transmitted diseases is to take proper precautions against tick bites and to promptly remove any attached ticks. The following procedures will help ensure that you don’t get bitten in the first place.
* Wear light colored clothing so that ticks are more easily seen.
* Wear long sleeved shirts and tuck your pants into your shoes or socks.
* Apply a tick repellent to your clothing. Use products that contain the pesticide permethrin that kills ticks on contact. Permethrin should be used on clothing only.
* Apply a tick repellent to your skin. Use products that contain DEET that repels ticks. Always follow the directions on the product package.
* Avoid trails and areas with tall grass. Adult ticks climb to the tips of vegetation and simply wait for a host to walk by so they can hitch a ride.
* Check your pets to make sure they do not have ticks that can be brought into your house or into contact with people. Control ticks on animals by using products recommended by your veterinarian.
* Complete a Tick Check: After visiting an area known to have ticks, check your entire body for several days. Check the dark, warm areas of your body such as your hairline, at your beltline, behind your ears, under your arms and breasts, and in your groin area. Run your hands over your body, feeling for attached ticks. An embedded tick is more likely to be found this way than by visual inspection.
Removing an attached tick within 24 hours reduces the risk of contracting Lyme disease. To remove an attached tick:
* Use fine or blunt-tipped tweezers to grab the mouthparts as close to the skin as possible and gently, but steadily, lift the tick up and out of the skin. If tweezers are not available, fingers may be used. * Clean the area with soap and warm water. * Do not squash the tick while it is still attached to the skin. * Use an antiseptic at the bite location once the tick is removed. * Do not use a hot match, petroleum jelly, or other products to coax the tick out of the skin. Do not twist or attempt to unscrew the tick from the skin. Doing so may increase the risk of contracting Lyme disease.
Lyme disease in Contra Costa County is fairly rare. Past studies have shown that on average only about 1-2% of black-legged ticks are carrying the Lyme bacteria. There are typically two to four human cases reported per year. Our Laboratory can identify ticks brought or mailed in by members of the public who have been bitten. To submit a tick for identification, place it in a sealed zipper bag with a piece of slightly moist (not wet) cotton or paper towel, and be sure to include your email address and/or phone number.
The California Department of Public Health does not recommend tick testing, but upon request, we can provide a list of commercial labs that will test ticks for a fee.