The county’s latest survey of Lyme disease-carrying ticks in the Santa Monica Mountains came up positive in seven locations — Malibu’s own Charmlee Park, four State Parks (Malibu Creek, Tapia, Topanga and Will Rogers), Paramount Ranch and Sullivan Canyon. It was the first time Paramount Ranch ticks tested positive for the disease.
Government agencies stress that only one kind of tick on the West Coast carries Lyme disease — the Western black-legged tick — and only one to two percent of those ticks test positive. Although California does not have nearly as much of a problem with Lyme disease as the Northeastern U.S., anyone spending any amount of time outside in the tall grasses and brushy or wooded areas of the Santa Monica Mountains is advised to take precautions.
The California Department of Public Health reported eight cases of Lyme disease in Los Angeles County in 2011, one case in 2012, 22 cases in 2013 and six cases in 2014 (the last year data is available). Many sources say that instances of Lyme disease are vastly underreported, since physicians commonly mistake it for other more common diseases and illnesses.
Government agencies advise people to avoid areas likely to be infested with ticks, particularly in spring and summer when nymph ticks feed. These include moist, shaded environments, with leaf litter and low-lying vegetation in wooded, brushy or overgrown grassy habitats. Hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians should stay on trails and avoid direct contact with surrounding plants. Ticks like to climb to the top of a long blade of grass and lie in wait for a host to brush by.
If going into a tick area, wear light-colored clothing (dark ticks show up better on light clothing) with long pants tucked into socks, long-sleeved shirt tucked in, closed-toed shoes and a hat. Button all buttons. Spray a 20-30 percent DEET insect repellent on clothing and skin.
Once the outing is over, do a full body check, including the scalp, and remove any ticks. If dogs or horses were along, they also need to be checked for ticks (cats and cattle have also been diagnosed with Lyme disease).
The chances of contracting Lyme disease are greatly reduced if a tick is removed within 24 hours of embedding itself in the skin. The preferred method for removing attached ticks from people or animals is by placing fine point tweezers around the tick’s mouthparts (the place where the tick is attached) and gently pulling upward until the tick detaches. The tick can be taken to a doctor or vet to send off for testing.
The Western black-legged tick is tiny as far as ticks go — no bigger than a pinhead in the nymph stage, with adult ticks only slightly larger. They’re members of the spider family, with eight legs.
Ticks can attach anywhere on the body, but prefer the armpit, groin, back of the knee and nape of the neck. They feed on blood by inserting their mouth parts (not their whole bodies) into the skin for several days. As they feed, their bodies enlarge, and they eventually fall off.
The early symptoms of Lyme disease can be mild and easily overlooked. An expanding rash, described by some as looking like a “bullseye,” occurs in 50 to 60 percent of all cases within three to 30 days. Around the time the rash appears, symptoms like joint pains, chills, fever and fatigue are common, but might not seem serious enough to go to the doctor.
Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics. Without treatment, the symptoms can progress into heart or nervous system disorders.
The most common symptoms of a dog with Lyme disease are lameness, fever, lethargy and enlarged lymph nodes two to five months after infection. Dogs are also treated with antibiotics.
Online records of the LA County West Vector Control District and/or the California Department of Public Health (and others) indicate that ticks have been testing positive for Lyme disease in Charmlee Park as well as Malibu Creek, Tapia, Topanga and Will Rogers State Parks since at least 2007.