‘It’s tick season all year round’: Precaution recommended for Sonoma County residents against Lyme disease carrying bugs
Former Bay Area news anchor Leslie Griffith died Aug. 10, according to a report by KTVU Channel 2 News. Family members say Griffith had been suffering from Lyme Disease since she was bitten by a tick while living in Oregon in 2015.
In California, the western black-legged ticks — the species that carries the bacterium that causes Lyme disease — have been found in 56 of the state’s 58 counties, including Sonoma County, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Yet officials at the Marin-Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District say residents can employ several precautions to avoid ticks outdoors and around their homes.
“In Sonoma County, ticks are actually active year-round,” said Nizza Sequeira, public information officer for Marin-Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District.
“You want to make sure you're taking precautions,” Sequeira said. She recommends dressing in light colors and long pants and sleeves, staying in the middle of hiking trails and applying repellents.
Western black-legged ticks, also known as the deer tick, are most active October through July, with adult activity peaking in the winter and nymphs (immature ticks) peaking in the spring.
People most commonly come into contact with ticks while hiking or participating in outdoor activity. Adult ticks perch on the top of long grass and wait for a passing host in a process officials call “questing.” Nymphs, which are the size of a poppy seed, are commonly found in leaf piles or on mossy logs. Despite rumors, ticks do not fly or fall from trees.
“You actually have to brush up against them,” Sequeira said.
In addition to checking yourself for ticks while outdoors, Sequeira recommends showering and putting your clothes in the dryer when you get home to kill any potential ticks in your clothing.
If you do find a tick that is attached to you, Sequeira said the correct method for removing the bug is to use fine-tipped tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, and pull straight out.
Sequeira adds to check pets for ticks after hikes and to consult with your vet for preventive measures for your pets.
The Marin-Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District also has several tips for tick-safe landscaping, including trimming lawns and bushes, removing leaves and litter and putting down gravel or wood chips barriers around your property to deter the bugs.
So how common are infected ticks in Sonoma County?
The district’s regular tick surveillance program goes to parks to collect and test western black-legged ticks. Dr. Kelly Liebman, Scientific Programs Manager at the district, says that in Sonoma County, they generally see infection in about 1.6% of adult ticks and 4.2% of nymphs.
The district has tested over 8,500 adult and over 2,400 nymphs since 2008.
Despite the tick population, the CDC reported that California has a low incidence of Lyme disease, with 82 confirmed cases in 2019, the most recent year that it collected data on the disease.
“Tick populations tend to be variable by year and can even be variable within a park,” Liebman said. “What I tell people is that it’s tick season in California pretty much all year round. But I wouldn’t let the idea that the bacteria is out there prohibit you from going out and enjoying nature. I would just recommend taking precautions before entering anywhere you might have ticks.”
For more information, visit msmosquito.org/ticks.