Wednesday, December 18, 2013

backcountry hazard - ticks and lyme disease

Mountain biking Middle Lion Trail, Sespe Creek watershed
 - Mountain Bike Action Magazine Nov 2013

Our area has some amazing backcountry.  So when the surf is flat, there's still lots of things to do.  I have hiked and biked the local trails for decades, and generally spent a lot of time outdoors.  Apart from the usual cuts and bruises (and a mild concussion), I've always stayed fairly safe. No rattlesnake, scorpion, or shark bites.  But last April, a ride on the trail pictured above changed my life.

Hard to imagine something so tiny has the potential
 to wreak so much havoc
Over the years I must have been bitten by hundreds of ticks.  But this time I got a bad one.  I'd always heard of Lyme Disease, and was aware of the potential hazard from ticks.  If caught soon, ticks can be removed fairly easily.  But left on the body for too long, a tick will embed itself under the skin to feed on your blood.  Along with anticoagulants and anesthetics, it can inject a potentially life threatening bacteria into your body - a spiral-shaped bacteria (spirochete) called Borrelia burfgdorferi.

Common on the East Coast of the United States, Lyme Disease is becoming more prevalent in our area.       Some attribute this spread to our intrusion on natural processes and climate change.  It seems everyone I talk to knows someone affected by it.  Unfortunately mistreatment and misdiagnosis is the norm, which can lead to long term disability and even death.

I will be ok, but it will take many months to recover.  Although my initial diagnosis and treatment was inadequate, I am now under the care of  a LLMD (Lyme Literate MD.)   But this was only because I knew exactly what happened and received good referrals.  Those less fortunate endure years of misdiagnosis and an endless misery that I would wish on nobody.

According to the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS):
  • Up to fifty percent of ticks in Lyme-endemic areas are infected with Lyme or other tick-borne diseases. With odds like that, if you have proof or a high suspicion that you've been bitten by a tick, taking a "wait and see" approach to deciding whether to treat the disease has risks. The onset of Lyme disease symptoms can be easily overlooked or mistaken for other illnesses. Once symptoms are more evident the disease may have already entered the central nervous system, and could be hard to cure. This is one case in which an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.
Research shows that Lyme is present throughout California, as illustrated in this map.

Download the data here:

As early as 1999, LA County vector control documented Lyme carrying ticks in the Santa Monica mountains recreation area.  More recently, a 2013 press release alerted the public that Lyme Disease-Carrying Ticks Found Lurking in New Areas in Santa Monica Mountains.

Who knows why Ventura County and local doctors are still in denial?

I post this information so people will be aware that Lyme Disease is a serious problem in Southern California, and that although your general practitioner may not be 'lyme literate,' there are doctors who can help.


The film "Under Our Skin" exposes the horrors of Lyme and the controversy and conflicts surrounding the disease.  The full feature is here:

More info:

Tips to Avoid Lyme Disease:

Under Our Skin Movie:

TOUCHED BY LYME: Ski champ shares her “LymeLight” in new film - See more at:

The Rise of the Tick, OUTSIDE MAGAZINE, JUNE 2013