As summer vacation kicks off and more families head out into the great outdoors, many of them will encounter a common parasite in the region: ticks. Staying informed about these pests and practicing prevention are the best ways to avoid tick bites and tick-borne illnesses.
Ticks are a type of arachnid, closely related to spiders and scorpions. They feed on the blood of humans and animals, and spread disease between species.
Yolo County is habitat to several species of ticks, including the American dog tick, the brown dog tick, the Western black-legged tick and the Rocky Mountain wood tick. They are classified in two categories, hard ticks and soft ticks. Hard ticks spread human diseases, like Lyme disease, and soft ticks are known to transmit diseases from livestock to humans.
While Lyme disease is not an outsized risk in Yolo County, it is still possible to contract it. The CDC reported 10 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in Yolo County in the last decade. It is possible that the number of cases is much higher, as the symptoms of Lyme disease can be so diverse that it is often misdiagnosed.
It is important to be able to identify the early symptoms of Lyme disease, because if left untreated it can become a chronic illness. For 80 percent of the people who contract Lyme disease, one of the first symptoms is a red circle around the bite. Twenty percent of victims do not get an early warning sign.
If diagnosed quickly, Lyme disease can by cured with a dose of antibiotics. If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause facial numbness, loss of memory, fatigue and mood swings.
There are also several other diseases that ticks in Northern California transmit, such as babesiosis, which causes flu-like symptoms, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
When it comes to tick-borne diseases, prevention is the best course of action. Taking precautions while hiking or camping is the best way to avoid a tick bite.
Ticks can be found perched on a blade of tall grass or a shrub, waiting for a new host to brush past it. The tick then moves from the plant to the host and scrambles to find a place to attach. Avoiding overgrown trails and tall grass will reduce the risk of coming into contact with ticks.
People in prime tick habitat should wear long sleeves and pants to protect their skin. Dressing in light colored clothing will make it easier to spot a tick that may have latched on to a pant leg. It is also suggested that people tuck the legs of their pants into their socks. For those who camp or hike often, it could be worthwhile to invest in tick repellent clothing.
The next most important thing that a hiker can do is to check humans and pets for ticks that may have attached. Most of the diseases that ticks carry will only infect their host if the tick is attached for over 36 hours. If a tick is found and removed quickly, there is little risk of infection.
There is only one recommended method of tick removal. Using a pair of tweezers, grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull straight out. Twisting the tick can result in releasing the fluids inside the animal and increasing the risk of disease transmission. Home remedies like coating the bite area with Vasoline or burning the tick with a flame are highly discouraged.
After the tick is removed, disinfect the bite and save the tick for identification. The local Vector Control District and County Health Department will both identify ticks.
Yolo County Vector Control can be contacted at 800-429-1022, and is located at 1234 Fortuna Avenue in Woodland. They provide mosquito and vector control at no charge.
For more information, visit fightthebite.net.