Summer may be the perfect season for outdoor activities but you may want to pack an extra bottle of insect repellent the next time you head out for an adventure in the local mountains. There’s a newly identified public health threat in town and it can be carried and transmitted by a common local tick. The bacteria that cause Pacific Coast tick fever have been confirmed in Pacific Coast ticks in Orange County.
“This is the most common and widespread tick species in Orange County,” says Jared Dever, Director of Communications for the Orange County Vector Control District. “Unfortunately, the prevalence of this tick in the region can mean a higher risk for human infection.” Dever says the Pacific Coast tick is highly adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats including urban, suburban, rural, and wilderness areas. “You should watch for these ticks any place animals can be found,” Dever cautions. Ticks seek out animals for their blood meals, which they need to grow and develop. Transmission of the bacteria that cause Pacific Coast tick fever, rickettsia phillipi, can occur when the tick bites a human.
Symptoms of Pacific Coast tick fever include sustained high fevers, headache, muscle pain, fatigue and eschars around the bite site. Eschars are cutaneous ulcers or open wounds on the skin that continue to grow. While no human fatalities have been reported in California as a result of Pacific Coast tick fever, the number of cases is likely under-reported. If you experience a tick bite, which is followed by a fever or infection around the bite site within seven to 14 days, see your physician immediately. Since the disease was only recently identified in California, physicians may be unaware of this new risk associated with ticks in Orange County. Be sure to inform your physician of your exposure to ticks and ask about testing for Pacific Coast tick fever. This bacterial infection can generally be treated with a course of antibiotics.
Dever says the best protection against Pacific Coast tick fever is to avoid tick bites. “When you’re outdoors and come in contact with vegetation, check your skin, scalp, and clothes frequently for ticks.” Outdoor enthusiasts and dabblers should tuck their pant legs into their socks and tuck their shirts into their pants when hiking or in areas where ticks may be active. Of course, the regular use of insect repellents is also important in tick bite prevention. Repellents containing EPA-registered active ingredients such as DEET are the most effective against ticks.
Pacific Coast tick fever was first identified as a human pathogen in California in 2011 in northern California. “This is just one more disease in the bevy of diseases that ticks can transmit in California,” says Dever referring to illnesses such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. “This information should reinforce our vigilance and awareness of ticks and tick-borne diseases in Orange County.”
For more information about Pacific Coast tick fever, contact the Orange County Vector Control District at (714) 971-2421 or visit www.ocvcd.org.