People hiking or working in brushy areas should protect themselves from ticks, County officials said this week, after a tick trapped in routine monitoring in Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve tested positive for tularemia.
Tularemia, also known as “rabbit fever,” is a potentially dangerous disease that people can contract from infected animals such as rabbits and rodents in a number of ways — through direct contact with infected animals; by drinking or inhaling contaminated water, dust or aerosols; or through “vectors,” pests such as ticks that bite an infected animal and then a person.
“There are some simple things that people can do to protect themselves from ticks,” said County Department of Environmental Health Acting Director Liz Pozzebon. “One of the first things you should do is use insect repellent if you’re going to be in areas you might come into contact with ticks. You should also use flea and tick control products on your pets as well.”
Ticks attach themselves to people and animals and feed on their blood. They look for hosts by “questing” — that is, by crawling up stems of grass or perching on the edge of leaves and extending their front legs so they can latch on and hitch a ride when a person or animal brushes by.
Pozzebon said other actions people can take to protect themselves include:
- Stay on designated pathways when hiking; choose wide trails and walk in the center.
- Avoid grassy or brushy areas and do not handle wild rodents. Wear light-colored, long-sleeved clothing; tuck shirts into pants and pants into socks.
- Frequently check clothing, body and companions for ticks.
- Leave pets at home or keep them on a leash. If they haven’t already been treated with a tick and flea regimen, use insecticide powders or sprays labeled for tick control.
- Carefully and immediately remove ticks that have attached themselves. Remove embedded ticks by grabbing them with tweezers as close to the insect’s head as possible and pulling out steadily and firmly.
County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said tularemia cannot be transmitted from one person to another and it can be treated with antibiotics. However, Wooten said, tularemia can be serious and even deadly in rare cases. She said people should consult their doctors immediately if they think they have contracted the disease.
Wooten said that symptoms typically include swollen lymph nodes, headache, fever, and possibly skin ulcer at the site of the insect bite, fatigue, body aches and nausea. A person who develops symptoms within three weeks of visiting a tick-infested area should seek medical attention and tell their doctor they may have come in contact with ticks.
For more information about tularemia surveillance, call the County Vector Control Program at (858) 694-2888 or visit the Vector Control website.
For more information about ticks and surveillance, watch this County News Center TV video, “Tick Talk.”