By Earl Bates
Spring in Ojai is the time and place for many of nature’s beautiful happenings, and it’s prime time to be on the lookout for a tick attack.
Ticks are active all year and they typically become busier following the winter rains. Also it’s the traditional time for people to emerge for a new season of outdoor activities, like hiking into tick territory.
Ticks, the little bloodsuckers, would be obnoxious enough if they didn’t carry a variety of communicable maladies, Lyme disease being one of the most notorious.
“The assumption is that Lyme disease is something you get back east,” said Ojai resident Judy Bysshe. “No. 1, people need to know they can get it here.” To be unaware of that is to leave yourself vulnerable. Also, if you know you have been bitten, save the tick and have it tested. Knowing if the tick carried a disease would be helpful in deciding to seek treatment. Delaying treatment until the patient’s blood test indicates the presence of disease agents could give the disease time to become established, making treatment far more difficult, she said.
“When you hike,” said Bysshe, “hike smart.” White or tan clothing makes the tick easier to see, full-length pants and long-sleeve shirts are recommended to help keep the skin protected. Watch for ticks while you hike, they are easy to brush off before they bite. After your hike, thoroughly check your body for any kind of tick, take a shower and wash your clothing.
Last February, after a hike on one of Ojai’s local trails, Bysshe was bitten by a Lyme disease tick and got the disease because she neglected to heed the rules. “In a rush,” she said. “Had to be some place, left my hiking clothes on, ran off and did my stuff all day long. I just didn’t do what I should have done.”
Bysshe searched online for Lyme disease information. “There are some very distinctive looks that the Lyme tick produces and one is a perfect circle as though drawn by a red pen, and that’s what I had.
“I called my doctor, who didn’t think there was any Lyme in the area. That’s part of the problem locally, most doctors don’t know it’s here. And that’s what I’m hearing from lots of people, they think there’s no Lyme in this area.”
Bysshe self-diagnosed Lyme disease and her doctor provided antibiotics. “If you think you might have it you need to be tested by the Igenics Lab in Palo Alto, they are the experts in Lyme disease,” she said.
According to Randy Smith, Ventura County Environmental Health supervisor, “Yes, we do have Lyme disease here in Ventura County and we do have the type of tick that can transmit Lyme disease along with several other types of ticks.”
The thing with Lyme disease is that the potential for it is very low in Ventura County. Less than 2 percent of the species of the western black-legged tick, a tick that can transmit the disease, are found to have the disease in California. Here in Ventura County that’s even less. Meaning even if you get a tick bite in Ventura County there’s a pretty small chance you are going to get Lyme disease, he said.
The chance of contracting Lyme disease in New England and some other areas is much higher than here in California.
The western black-legged tick seems to be especially fond of some Ojai area habitats. The ticks prefer areas of higher humidity, they are more commonly found along streams and wet areas. In the Ojai Valley ticks can be found in many places. Sisar Creek, Horn Canyon and Soule Park are indicated as areas of high populations of western black-legged ticks, according to field surveys and mapped data from the Ventura County Environmental Health Division.
Dr. Robert Levin, Ventura County Public Health officer, said Lyme disease should be on people’s radar but it’s not a major problem in our county. “It can be a major problem for an individual who gets it, but we don’t get that many individuals who get it.
“I can tell you that we think we have anywhere from zero to three cases a year that likely originate in our county and most of those probably originate from the Ojai area,” he said.
From 2003 through 2008, from two to 12 cases of Lyme disease were reported annually in Ventura county, but most of those were contracted elsewhere.
The main early sign is a typical rash, a red raised spot that expands outward and clears in the center, it’s a growing ring-like lesion, said Levin. “It always matters which doctor you see,” he said. “In the best of all possible worlds, most primary care doctors would understand when they saw a ring-like rash they should consider the possibility of Lyme disease.”
More information about ticks and Lyme disease can be found at ventura
.org/rma/envhealth and search that site for the topic “ticks.”