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How to spot — and avoid getting — Lyme disease

Life stages of a Western Blacklegged Tick
Life stages of a Western Blacklegged Tick

Q. “I occasionally see ticks on my dog when we go hiking. Should I be concerned about Lyme disease?”

Peter B., Atascadero

A. Lyme disease is a potentially serious disease that can impact multiple systems in the body. The California Department of Public Health says that signs may include flu-like symptoms, such as muscle aches, joint pain or fatigue, muscle paralysis in the face, heart palpitations or an expanding rash. Left untreated it can lead to arthritis or nervous system problems in some patients.

Lyme disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics, especially in the early stages of the disease.

Lyme disease is caused by a corkscrew-shaped bacteria called a spirochete that is carried primarily by the black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus).

Ticks have four life stages: egg, larvae, nymph and adult. In each stage, after hatching, they suck blood from animals like lizards, mice, squirrels, birds and deer. Then they drop off, enter a dormant period and molt to enter the next developmental stage.

Ticks don’t start out infected with Lyme disease. They get it by feeding on infected animals. They pass it along to the next animal or person they bite.

Only nymphs and adult females transmit Lyme disease. Nymphs are found in cool moist environments, such as in leaf litter or on logs, tree trunks or fallen branches under trees in oak woodlands. Adults are found on the tips of grasses and shrubs, often alongside trails.

People can minimize their chances of being bitten by following these steps:

▪  Avoid areas where ticks are known to occur.

▪  Stay in the middle of trails; avoid grassy areas, logs or fallen tree branches.

▪  Thoroughly check yourself and others for ticks for up to three days after activities in tick-infested areas.

▪  Shower soon after returning from a tick habitat

▪  Before washing, place clothing worn in tick areas in a hot dryer for 10 minutes to kill ticks on clothing.

If a tick has already attached itself to your skin, remove it promptly. Use tweezers to grasp the tick’s mouthparts as close to the skin as possible. Gently pull the tick straight out, using a firm, steady motion.

To learn more about Lyme Disease go to www.ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7485.html

Linda Lewis Griffith is a UCCE Master Gardener.

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In San Luis Obispo call 781-5939, Arroyo Grande, 473-7190 and Templeton, 434-4105. Visit us at http://ucanr.org/sites/mgslo/ or email us at anrmgslo@ucanr.edu. Follow us on Instagram at slo_mgs and like us on Facebook. Informative garden workshops are held the third Saturday of every month, 10 a.m. to noon at 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo. Garden docents are available after the workshop until 1 p.m. To request a tour of the garden, call 781-5939.