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Placer County ticks test positive for Lyme disease

Health officials caution outdoor enthusiasts
By: Martha Garcia, Colfax Record Editor
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Hikers enjoying the beauty of Stevens Trail should heed warnings about ticks from state and public health officials. On. Jan. 25, the Placer Mosquito and Vector Control District announced that eight tick samples in Placer County had tested positive for the Lyme disease organism. According to Ada Barros, district public information officer, the infected ticks on Stevens Trail were found within one mile of the trailhead, located on North Canyon Way near the Colfax Cemetery. Positive samples were also taken from the Placer Nature Center in Christian Valley, the Auburn Overlook Trail, Hidden Falls Regional Park in Auburn, and Driver’s Flat near Foresthill. Eight sites were visited, said Barros, which produced eight positive samples at five sites. “From Stevens Trail we got three positive samples, Placer Nature had two positive samples, and we had one positive sample each at the other three sites,” she said. Scott Kipf, of Granite Bay, and Steve Milward, of Weimar, use Stevens Trail often and said during a recent hike that they were aware that ticks carrying Lyme disease had been found on the trail head. Milward said he took precautions by spraying himself with DEET and keeping it in his pack, While he had concerns, Kipf chose to wear protective clothing instead. Audrey Hemesath also took Stevens Trail on a recent hike to the American River. Hemesath said she is not usually worried about ticks this time of year, but with the spring-like weather these days, she is taking precautions earlier than usual. Even though most people associate ticks and Lyme disease with the summer months, Joel Buettner, district general manager, said ticks are capable of infecting humans with the Lyme disease pathogen even when temperatures are colder. “We are concerned that with the milder winter we have been experiencing, a lot of folks will be taking the opportunity to engage in outdoor activities, such as hiking in tick habitat, and potentially putting themselves at risk for tick-borne disease,” Buettner said. Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health and state public health officer, also warned in January that individuals who work or play outdoors in the winter months should be on the alert for ticks that may carry bacteria that cause Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. “Adult western black-legged ticks continue to be active in temperatures above freezing levels and can pass pathogens such as Lyme disease to humans," Chapman said. Chapman said there are many different kinds of ticks in California, but only the western black-legged tick transmits Lyme disease. This reddish-brown tick is found in most California counties, but is more common in the humid northwestern coastal areas and the western slope of the northern Sierra Nevada, where adult ticks climb to the tips of vegetation, often alongside trails or paths, and wait for a host to brush against them. According to Chapman, symptoms of Lyme disease can include a spreading rash usually accompanied by flu-like symptoms, such as fever and body aches. Painful redness that occurs less than 24 hours after a tick bite and does not spread is more likely to be a reaction to the tick’s saliva. Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics, and most patients recover completely without complications if treated early during the course of the infection. If left untreated, in some people symptoms can progress into arthritis or nervous system disorders. Meadow Vista’s Chris Ryland, who contracted Lyme disease 14 years ago, said that last year’s wet spring fostered conditions that increase risks and this year’s mild winter will make things even riskier in the outdoors. Oak leaves and wet weather foster the growth of tick populations, Ryland said. “We live in an ideal area for it and it’s going to be another bad year,” she said. “The ground is staying moist and the warm temperatures are perfect for it.” Awareness is the key to staying disease-free, Ryland said. “This is part of where we live,” she said. “People shouldn’t worry. They should be aware and be educated.” Ryland suggests a visit to www.lymedisease.org for an overview and good advice. Tests on the tick samples were conducted at the Biosafety Level 3 lab operated by the Placer Mosquito and Vector Control District. “This is the first year we’ve been able to do our own tick testing,” Barros said. The BSL 3 designation is the first in the state for any independent mosquito and vector control district, she said, which makes it possible for the district to conduct on-site testing for tick-borne and mosquito-borne infectious agents. Gus Thomson contributed to this report.