California now has Lyme disease-carrying ticks. The insects are on the east coast and the western states have mostly been spared — until now. They’re usually found in wooded areas and tall grass, but they’ve been showing up on beaches in Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa, Marin, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Monterey. There are also hot spots farther south — in Malibu, Manhattan Beach and Newport Beach.
“Looking at adult ticks, so those are the larger ones that are more easy to discover, about 4% are carrying the beryllium burgdorferi, which is the bacterium that causes Lyme disease [in Northern California],” says Dan Salkeld, a research scientist at Colorado State University.
He notes that the risk isn’t as bad in Southern California. “Three combined studies done by other researchers … found one out of 5000-plus ticks are actually infected. So the risk in Southern California is really low.”
If a tick gets on you, remove it as quickly as you can, he advises. “You can just use forceps and pinch the tick as near to the skin, and pull it out directly and then wash the area. And so the longer a tick is feeding on our host, the more likely it is to transmit a disease if it has one.”
What do these ticks look like? “Nymphs … look like poppy seeds. So really tiny and hard to find. And then those become the adults, and the adults are often easier to discover. You can feel them moving across your body and feel their bites. But the nymphs are tiny, and you don't notice them. And they can feed for three or four days on you,” says Salkeld.
He recommends checking for ticks if you’re going out — the beach, woods, or elsewhere.