Researchers find no safe place to sit in California tick-infested forest

Berkeley - After a long hike through some of California's forests, it may be tempting to rest on a log or lean against a tree. Wrong move, say researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, who found that such activities may increase the risk of acquiring ticks harboring the Lyme disease bacterium.

"We sat on logs for only five minutes at a time, and in 30 percent of the cases, it resulted in exposure to ticks," said Robert Lane, professor in the Division of Insect Biology at UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources and lead investigator of the study. "It didn't matter if we sat on moss or the bare surface; the ticks were all over the log surface. The next riskiest behavior was gathering wood, followed by sitting against trees, which resulted in tick exposure 23 and 17 percent of the time, respectively."

The study, published in the current issue of the Journal of Medical Entomology, is the first quantitative analysis of human behaviors that may increase the risk of tick exposure in California's hardwood forests. The paper has come just weeks before the start of northwestern California's nymphal tick season, which begins in early spring and continues into summer.

The western black-legged tick, found primarily in the far western United States as well as in British Columbia, is the primary carrier of the corkscrew-shaped spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacterium named after its discoverer, Dr. Willy Burgdorfer. B. burgdorferi is responsible for Lyme disease, which can lead to debilitating symptoms in humans. Most human cases of Lyme disease in northwestern California appears to be transmitted by young nymphal ticks, which are notoriously difficult to detect because they are as small as poppy seeds.

Lane and study co-author Denise Steinlein, a UC Berkeley graduate student in insect biology, trekked through a hardwood forest at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center in southeastern Mendocino County to conduct the fi

Contact: Sarah Yang
University of California - Berkeley

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