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Summer Safety: Don’t Get Bugged by Fleas and Ticks

Summer Safety: Healthy Hiking

Healthy Hiking Tips from a Cedars-Sinai Guerin Children’s Infectious Disease Specialist

It’s summertime and California hiking trails are beckoning. But along with lusher than usual greenery due to this year’s heavy rains, the hills are alive with ticks and fleas. The Cedars-Sinai Newsroom talked with Priya Soni, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cedars-Sinai Guerin Children’s, about how to avoid and minimize ticks and flea bites.

What can you do to prevent ticks bites?

"There are several precautions to take before you hit the trails that can prevent bites, such as:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. 
  • Tuck the bottom of your pants into your boots or socks.  
  • Apply tick repellent to clothing. Products with DEET will repel ticks and products with permethrin will kill ticks on contact.
  • Avoid hiking in tall grass or heavily wooded areas because ticks tend to live and thrive in those areas.
  • Try to hike in the center of the trail to reduce contact with ticks.

How do you check for ticks when you get home?Healthy Hiking Cedars-Sinai

“The best place to inspect for ticks is in the shower. When you are inspecting your child check around the ears, near the hair line, under the arms, behind the legs and even inside the belly button because ticks like those crevices.”

How do you remove a tick?

“To remove a tick use a tweezer, and you want to apply the force of the tweezer at the base of the tick and  pull up. You don’t want to twist the tick off because you can leave parts of the tick inside embedded in the skin. If a tick is noticed within 24-hours of the hike or bite, and you are able to successfully remove it, the risk of transmission of any tickborne disease is very, very low.”  

What is the risk of Lyme disease?

Thankfully, in Southern California, the risk of Lyme disease is much, much less than in other parts of the country, particularly in the Northeast. Most of the Lyme disease that we see here in Southern California actually comes from when a child or patient has traveled from the East Coast and they've been hiking there or have been in a summer camp, and they come back and they contracted Lyme disease from their exposure from these Lyme-endemic states in the Northeast.

“Ticks that carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease can also carry other bacteria and cause infections known as Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis. Symptoms of both can include fever, muscle aches, weakness and headache. Unlike Lyme disease, a rash is not as common. Symptoms usually occur one to two weeks after a bite from an infected tick. In both cases, they can be treated with proper antibiotics. Not every bite from an infected tick however, results in an infection.” 

What other bites do hikers need to watch out for?

"It's very important for parents to also understand that ticks are not the only thing that can bite you when you're out hiking in Southern California. We also often see infections that are caused by fleas. We call this "flea-borne typhus” and it is caused by a Rickettsial bacteria causing infection.  Animals that can carry these infected fleas include cats, wild possums, rats and mice. The infection is usually characterized by high grade fever, a rash as well as a bad headache. It's very important for parents to be aware that if their child goes hiking and has these symptoms, that could be from exposure to an infected flea.

Overall, the best advice is prevention, by wearing the right clothing and using repellents. But if you suspect someone in your family has a flea or tick infection, it’s important to let your doctor know you’ve been hiking to get the proper diagnosis."

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