Tick Safety and Identification
By Meghan Schuyler
When working or spending time outdoors in Southern California, there is plenty of opportunity to spot breathtaking and exciting wildlife such as the Cooper’s Hawk, Red Racer Snake and the Black-Tailed Jackrabbit. However, the species that you don't see, especially ticks, can hurt you. Ticks are small arachnids that feed on human blood and have the potential to transmit various debilitating, even life-threatening, diseases. While ticks are present in California year-round, they are much more prevalent during the late spring months into the early summer (around April to June), so it is important to take additional precautions if you plan to venture outdoors during this time.
There are many species of ticks that occur across the country, however the main species present in the Southern California region are the American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis), the Brown Dog Tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus), and the Western Blacklegged Tick (Ixodes pacificus).
If you have been bitten by a tick, it is important to note which species has bitten you, as each species has the potential to transmit different diseases. The American Dog Tick can transmit Tularemia and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), the Brown Dog Tick can also transmit RMSF, and the Western Blacklegged Tick can transmit Anaplasmosis and the infamous Lyme disease (although this type of tick tends to feed on small animals rather than humans, so the infection rate for Lyme Disease in the region is relatively low despite the presence of this species).
The most common symptoms of all tick-borne illnesses are fever, chills, aches/pains, and a rash. If you notice any of these symptoms after recent exposure to an area that may host ticks, or if you discover a tick embedded in your skin, seek immediate medical treatment and avoid the most severe and long-term effects of tick-borne diseases. If you find a tick on you that has not yet embedded itself, remove the tick and kill it (ideally by drowning it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag or container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet) in order to prevent it from biting you, or someone else, later. If the tick has already embedded, be sure to follow proper protocol to remove it while avoiding many of the myths surrounding tick removal.
While many individuals claim that a tick can be “burned out” of your body by holding a lighter to it or detached by “painting” it with nail polish or petroleum jelly, these methods may fail to remove the tick at all, or may result in the tick’s head becoming stuck in your body. The most effective method for tick removal is to use fine-tipped tweezers to slowly pull upward to remove the tick from where it has embedded. This removal method is your best bet to safely and completely remove the tick from your skin.
Of course, it is best to avoid being bitten by a tick entirely. Proper tick prevention consists of knowing where ticks occur, avoiding these areas or taking proper care within them, and checking your clothing, gear, pets, etc. for ticks as soon as you leave an area where you may have been exposed. Ticks most commonly occur in grassy and brushy areas where they wait at the ends of branches and attach to passing mammals when they sense body heat. If you can, avoid these areas entirely, or if you are in an overly brushy path or area, avoid brushing against plants and shrubs to reduce the chance of tick attachment. If you have been in an area that may have ticks, make sure to check yourself and any gear for ticks, especially in the key areas where they like to burrow: under the arms, in your belly button, in and around your ears, in the backs of your knees, etc. Wearing clothes that cover all of your skin (long pants, long sleeves, long socks, etc.) and tucking in your clothes are effective ways to reduce a tick’s ability to reach your skin. With the proper knowledge and preventative measures, you can enjoy outdoor adventures, even during tick season!
For more information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on tick safety and prevention visit https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/
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