Sunbathers in California will need to check for ticks when they leave the beach, reports NPR, as the tiny arachnids continue to spread into new ecosystems.
Ticks are tiny, parasitic arachnids that survive by drinking the blood of their hosts. Ticks can cause great harm to domestic animals through the transmission of disease. They are known to carry the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is characterized by erythema migrans, an expanding circular rash that may feel warm to the touch, and flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, body aches, fatigue, headache, and swollen lymph nodes.
More severe symptoms include: joint pain, impaired muscle movement, neurological problems such as meningitis and Bell’s palsy, irregular heartbeat, eye inflammation, and hepatitis.
Lyme disease can be cured with antibiotics, but it is often misdiagnosed and left untreated. Even with proper treatment, the symptoms of Lyme disease can persist for months or years.
Ticks are native to wooded areas and scientists have been unable to explain their presence on California’s beaches, admits Dan Salkeld, a biology researcher at Colorado State University.
The invasion began in Northern California and has progressed south through Mendocino and Monterey Counties to reach Los Angeles, says Salkeld.
According to his research, roughly 4% of ticks in Northern California carry the disease compared to just .02% in Southern California.
Since 2015, the number of reported Lyme disease cases in California has increased by nearly 200%.
“We’ve known that there are more ticks in more places with more pathogens than most people have commonly known about,” says Lia Gaertner, who leads an outreach group in the Bay Area. “Now we’re able to match up what we’re seeing from personal experience and hearing from doctors, and hearing from patients.”
Gaertner urges beachgoers to use permethrin tick repellent on bags, wear light-colored clothing (which makes ticks easier to spot), and conduct full-body checks after an outing.
“Always walk on the designated path,” adds Gaertner, because ticks like to hang out on the very tops of bushes and grasses “waiting for a chance to hitch a ride.”