A Wet Winter Means More Ticks — and Diseases Like Lyme. Here's How to Keep Yourself (and Pets) Safer

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A close up image of a white finger with a large and small black insect on it.
Recent research shows that black-legged ticks carrying the bacteria that causes Lyme disease are capable of thriving along the West Coast. (Getty Images)

Ticks love moist, wet weather, which means they’re out in droves all across California this spring after historic storms saturated the state.

It’s beautiful outside,” said Linda Giampa, executive director of the Bay Area Lyme Foundation. “Everyone wants to get out and hike. We just want to make sure that people understand what to do and how to be safe out there, because it is going to be a massive tick season.”

Giampa said early studies suggest 30% to 40% more ticks are out this year compared to dry years, and this season is likely to last much longer than usual.

Forests in Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino counties are hot spots; China Camp State Park is a place to be especially careful. But ticks can be found all across California, including at the beach, hiding in seagrasses. Most years, ticks are found mostly in Northern California, but this year they are likely to show up further south because the entire state was drenched in soaking rain for several months.

Tick season is year round, but the prime time is early spring when the nymphs are out. They’re only the size of a poppy seed, but they carry more bacteria than adult ticks — so they’re more likely to transmit illnesses like Lyme disease. Tick-borne illnesses have increased on the West Coast in recent years, and the best way to stay healthy is to prevent getting bitten.


Ticks do not fly, and they can’t jump, so the pesky bloodsuckers “quest” by sitting on grasses and bushes stealthily waiting for a mammal to come by. They reach out their front legs and then pounce onto the ankles or legs of humans and animals who come close enough.

When you get back from a hike or a run, it’s a good idea to strip down and put all your clothing and shoes in a hot dryer for 20 minutes. Then jump in a hot shower and check your body carefully — especially behind the ears, legs and knees. Ticks tend to grab onto ankles and then crawl upward. If you have a dog, you want to check their armpits, eyes and ears — any area that’s moist.

If you find an embedded tick, use clean tweezers to pull the tick out by its mouth parts. You want to avoid pulling the tick apart or squishing it because that’s how pathogens can potentially spread. Then, Giampa suggests, toss it in a plastic bag and send it to a place like TickReport or Ticknology, which will test it for disease-causing microbes.

Wash your hands and the bite area with soap and water after the tick is removed. Then monitor yourself for symptoms. If you develop a rash or flu-like symptoms within 30 days of a bite, you should see your doctor.

A few resources: