Study finds high prevalence of Lyme-disease carrying ticks on beaches

Cheryl Santa Maria
·3 min read
Study finds high prevalence of Lyme-disease carrying ticks on beaches
Study finds high prevalence of Lyme-disease carrying ticks on beaches
Study finds high prevalence of Lyme-disease carrying ticks on beaches

While once largely confined to secluded areas, ticks carrying Lyme disease can now be found at equal rates in woodland areas and public beaches in northwestern California, according to new research published in the American Society for Microbiology.

Researchers say they were "surprised" by the findings. Ticks were tested for up to five species of tick-borne bacteria and in one area, the collective infection rate for all species was as high as 31 per cent. The research may influence future tick studies, which only tested for a single species of bacteria in specific locales, the authors say.

“The high rate of disease-carrying ticks in the coastal chaparral was really surprising to us," lead author Daniel Salkeld, Ph.D. of Colorado State University said in a statement, adding ticks had not been previously studied in bushy shrubland chaparral environments.

"And when looking at all the tick-borne pathogens simultaneously, it makes you rethink the local disease risk. Previously, we, along with other researchers, may have missed the big picture when we focused our attention on investigating the risk of one pathogen at a time. Now, we have a new imperative to look at the collective risk of all tick-borne pathogens in an area.”

Even areas inhabited by lizards that eat ticks weren't immune.

“Beaches and lizard habitats can no longer be considered havens from ticks," Linda Giampa, executive director at Bay Area Lyme Foundation said.

“Prevention of tick-borne disease is critical and ecology studies like this highlight the need to be vigilant anytime we are in the outdoors.”

The authors say the findings demonstrate the need for healthcare providers and members of the public to be better educated about the risks of contracting Lyme disease. While people generally know to check for ticks after going for a hike, they may not realize it's equally important to do so after spending time at the beach.

TICKS AND LYME DISEASE IN CANADA

Not all ticks carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

There are several types of ticks found in Canada, but only blacklegged ticks can transmit bacteria that causes the condition and only if they are infected with it, according to the Government of Canada's website.

Early detection is one of the best ways to treat Lyme disease.

Experts say the condition is on the rise in Canada and the U.S. due to a combination of ticks expanding northward and warmer weather, which is allowing the arachnids to survive in climates that were previously too cold.

It can take three days to one month for symptoms of Lyme disease to occur and it can be successfully treated with antibiotics.

LESSEN YOUR RISK

When heading outside, experts say you can lessen the risk of contracting Lyme disease by:

  • Using insect repellent that contains DEET or Icaridin.

  • Staying on cleared paths and avoid tramping through long grasses or brushy areas.

  • Covering up when you’re in an area known to have ticks.

  • Wearing light-coloured clothing.

  • Checking yourself, your children, and your pets after time spent outdoors. Make sure you do a full-body check -- especially in the hair, under the arms, in and around the ears, the belly button, behind the knees, and between the legs.

  • Showering or bathing within two hours of being outdoors so you can check for ticks and remove ticks that have not been attached yet.

IF YOU FIND A TICK:

  • Use tweezers to immediately remove it by grabbing onto its head and pulling it straight out.

  • Wash the bite with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer. If you don’t feel well, contact your health care provider and tell them you have been bitten by a tick.

  • Keep the tick in a closed container and bring it to your healthcare provider.

  • Put dry outdoor clothes in a dryer on high heat for 60 minutes to kill any remaining ticks.

Tips courtesy of the Eastern Ontario Health Unit. Thumbnail image courtesy of Getty.