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Study Finds Lyme Disease Widespread in Bay Area Open Spaces

Some simple precautions can be taken to avoid being bitten by ticks and potentially infected with Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses.

—By Bay City News

Lyme disease is more widespread in Bay Area open spaces than previously thought, according to the results of a new study announced today by Stanford University researchers.

The study, called "Tick-borne Pathogens in Northwestern California," also revealed that Bay Area ticks carry a second bacteria, previously undetected in the region, that can bring on flu-like symptoms in infected humans, such as relapsing fever and severe aches and pains, according to Dan Salkeld, a disease ecologist at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

"It had been seen before in a couple of places around the Northwest, but we had no idea it was in California," Salkeld said.

The two strains of bacteria were found by researchers who fanned out into 12 open space preserves in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and dragged big white blankets through woodlands, grasslands and chaparral environments, collecting ticks that stuck to the material, Salkeld said.

Lyme disease and the second pathogen—known to scientists by its scientific name Borrelia miyamotoi—were detected in around two percent of ticks that stuck to the white blankets, Salkeld said.

While the pathogens were detected in a far lower percentage than in the Northeastern U.S., where around 35 percent of ticks are carriers, it was still a higher result than many people expected to find in the Northwest.

"A lot of people think you just can't get Lyme disease in California," Salkeld said. "It's often under the radar, so sometimes it takes a really long time for the disease to be diagnosed."

If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause severe rashes, fever, joint pain, and debilitating arthritis, Salkeld said.

A group of concerned citizens in Portola Valley and Woodside started the non-profit Bay Area Lyme Foundation after several residents came down with the disease, but did not have it appropriately diagnosed for months.

"It often goes under the radar here," Salkeld said. The Foundation funded the Stanford study to begin to understand just how common Lyme disease is in the region.

"Lyme disease is widespread throughout the Bay Area," Salkeld said. "We found it in every single (test) open space, and every type of terrain."

For Bay Area residents who take advantage of the vast array of parks, trails and open spaces in the region, some simple precautions can be taken to avoid being bitten by ticks and potentially infected with Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses.

Hikers, walkers and bikers should try to stay in the middle of trails, avoiding brush, woodpiles and logs, Salkeld said.

After spending time outdoors, residents should check themselves thoroughly for ticks, especially their hair.

Pets should also be thoroughly checked for ticks after a walk in the woods, Salkeld said.

Anyone who develops symptoms—fever, headaches, rashes or fatigue—should consult a doctor familiar with Lyme.

Copyright © 2014 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.
Lonna Larsh February 20, 2014 at 11:12 AM
While factually true, this article might cause excessive concern. If you read the article (http://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2003.130668) you'll see that the actual percentages of ticks carrying the diseases reported is rather low, and lower than in previous reports. The only park investigated in Santa Cruz county is Castle Rock as well. It is important to protect oneself from tick bites and to be vigilant for signs of Lyme disease, but panic doesn't help.
jan February 20, 2014 at 12:08 PM
Better to be safe than sorry! Check yourself, children and pets. If caught early and treated, Lyme can be cured. Allowed to take up residence in your body, it is a harsh, painful and permanent condition. To repeat, Better to be safe than sorry!
Kirsten Jaeb February 20, 2014 at 12:34 PM
I agree with Jan - our son contracted Lyme Disease which affected both knees alternately. It was very strange and difficult to diagnose, but there is a relatively new blood test that detects it. The doctors just need to think of running that test! When a Stanford Rheumatologist finally diagnosed it, she was able to treat it successfully. We live in the back of El Granada next to the GGNRA open space. Watch for ticks and bites, and if you have strange symptoms that are difficult to diagnose, maybe suggest testing for Lyme.
cathy levy February 20, 2014 at 03:20 PM
As a veterinarian, I have the opportunity to monitor the prevalence of Lyme in this area from a different perspective. Our screenings on dogs most definitely show an active presence here. Luckily there is a vaccine available for dogs to help protect them, as well as products to kill the ticks. As a mother, I experienced my daughter contracting Lyme and the difficulty in obtaining the correct treatment, partially because it was wrongly assumed it wasn't a local problem.
Sharin Castro February 21, 2014 at 11:35 AM
I was very happy to see this posting and also the one a few weeks ago, as this is about awareness. There are so many people, including doctors, who don't understand Lyme Disease, the symptoms and how devastating it can be if not diagnosed and treated properly. Lyme is often misdiagnosed as the symptoms mimic many other diseases like Rheumatoid Arthritis, MS and Lupus which can lead to devastating consequences. If Lyme is caught early, you have a bulls eye rash and are treated with a 6-8 week course of antibiotics, you will most likely not suffer any residual effects. If it is not caught early, it can change your life forever. Many people don't get the telltale rash and don't even know they have been bit. So many doctors in California are not educated on the symptoms which can lead to being misdiagnosed and put on medication that allows the Lyme bacteria to spread. Sorry for the long post, but Lyme is much more common than you think, and the numbers keep growing. And speaking from experience, is very painful and very difficult to treat when it becomes chronic. I am one of thousands in the Bay Area that have the disease and it has most definitely changed my life. Education and awareness is key.
S.Giraud February 21, 2014 at 10:53 PM
Those lovely deer that we have roaming are front yards for people that have homes in the hills of the mid peninsula carry more tics than you can imagine. They roam your yards and deposit those parasite's on your property. Keep that in mind. You do not have to go to a trail to get bit by a tick.
Deborah Hock February 23, 2014 at 10:33 PM
Once they are already on a deer, and embedded in their "host", why would they drop off to be in your yard? (Excuse my ignorance, if applicable).

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