Bay Area Lyme Disease Threat Far Greater Than Thought

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.

Chris Cooney, Bay City News

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  • Nina Maggs

    Lyme Disease is dramatically on the increase and surpassing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Ignorance from the worlds medical authorities, inaccurate testing, poor knowledge of doctors and poor treatment means this disease is leaving many hard-working individuals to suffer and, in some cases, die.

    No proper cure has been made for this disease, only long term antibiotics and a hard journey to put the disease hopefully into remission. Why is the world being polluted with a bacterial infection? Medicine should have the means to overcome this! Cancer is starting to be overcome? Cancer is well known, many Lymd sufferers would rather have cancer than Lyme. What does that say to our faith in the world?

  • Robert Wolfe

    It would be nice to know the species of tick, those shown appear to be dog ticks, which are not supposed to carry lyme.

  • don mau

    Lyme disease is normally considered to be a Borrielia infection but among the co-infections is Bartonella. Borrielia is much easier to treat without the presence of Bart. Bart is the real culprit and what is not known is that Bart cause angiogenic tumors in your blood vessels which the bacteria use to hide from treatment. Not very many LLMD’s are successful at treating Bart.

    Everything explained here and how to treat presented as free info.

  • fduvall

    @Robert Wolfe – From another article that I saw out of Stanford, “Lyme disease, named for Lyme, Conn., where the illness was first identified in 1975, is transmitted to humans via the bite of a tick infected with B. burgdorferi. In California, the culprit is the western black-legged tick and the primary carrier is the western gray squirrel. On the East Coast, the culprit is the black-legged tick and the white-footed mouse is the main carrier.”