Vampires are real. They’re in the hills all around us. They are more commonly called ticks.
I am hardly a rugged outdoorsman. For me, “roughing it” means opening the window in a Holiday Inn. That being said, I like taking (short) hikes on the trails around the county. It was especially beautiful earlier this spring.
The rain we received turned the hillsides green and it seemed like there were wildflowers everywhere. Every chance I had, I’d head to the hills to see the wildflowers, deer and other sights of spring. And then one day, I returned from a hike and sat down in the living room. I felt something odd and looked down to see a tick walking up my arm.
I’ve never had a tick bite me and I had no intention of letting this one be the first. I pinched it between my thumb and forefinger and did what any man would do; I took it into the next room and showed my wife. Two things: first, she had no interest in seeing it. And second, I found out later, pinching it between your fingers causes the tick no harm and may actually encourage it to bite you.
Although it did not bite me, it thoroughly freaked me out. The only thing I had ever really worried about on the trails were rattlesnakes, but they actually prefer to avoid you. The ticks are out there in much bigger numbers, and they’re waiting for you.
According to Ventura County’s Environmental Health Division, 49 species of ticks call California their home. One of those species, the Western Black-legged or Deer Tick, is known to transmit Lyme disease. The Environmental Health website says: “The Deer Tick has been found in many areas of Ventura County. Heaviest concentrations of ticks have been in the humid coastal areas and along horse and hiking trails.”
Well of course they’re along the hiking trails. That’s where their food walks. So the site offers these tips: Tuck your pants into your boots or socks, and tuck your shirt into your pants. Wear light-colored clothing so you can see the ticks. Apply insect repellent (registered for use against ticks) and avoid trail margins, brush and grassy areas. While hiking and afterward, be sure to check yourself and your children for any ticks that may have hitched a ride.
I followed all of this device to the extent I could — except for tucking my pants into my socks — and still the ticks found me. For the record, I don’t think tucking my pants into my socks would have prevented the attack. Or maybe the ticks laugh so hard at people with their pants tucked into their socks that they are given a free pass. I don’t really know. Anyway, after a lifetime of being tick-free, I found them on me three times so far this spring.
To date, I’ve found them all before they could actually bite me, but I don’t know how far I can extend that record. And to that end, a tick bite should be taken seriously because of the threat of Lyme disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed national surveys and found that only 11 percent of people bitten by a tick consulted a doctor. Lyme disease often starts with headaches and fever but, if left untreated, can spread to the heart joints and nervous system.
But none of this should deter you from enjoying our trails and natural beauty. It certainly won’t deter me, but there’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of caution … and insect repellent.