Borrelia miyamotoi

When I spent four years in North Carolina about 35 years ago, I hated going into the woods because doing so without a hat invited ticks to drop on my head. I remember one long post-hike affair when my girlfriend and I stripped ourselves naked and spent a distinctly unerotic hour searching for the vectors on our skin and in our various hairy bits. We broke up shortly afterwards, though not because of the ticks, I think. The plastic helmet that I started to wear to protect myself proved a more decisive factor — among many.

Ticks scare me. Just the thought of a creature burrowing its head into my body and sucking deeply from the nearest capillary gives me no happy thrill. I shivered when my dog’s veterinarian found one attached to his neck. It looked like a lump of grayish brown dog flesh to me. I backed off when he raised it to show to me. Good thing, I thought, that I didn’t let my Boston Terrier sleep with me. Who wanted to become a second course to a known carrier of Lyme Disease?

We Westerners have long assumed that Lyme Disease is an East Coast phenomenon. This has changed. The spirochetes have migrated to our forests and are found in all but 15 of California’s 58 counties. Orange, where I live, is not lucky enough to be among the unaffected. During my rough house Boy Scout days, I thought nothing of pushing my way through the scrub. One tick changed all that. The little jerk pushed his way into the skin of my leg where my mother removed it with the help of a pair of tweezers. Or is that a recovered memory?

I could well be a dead man if I ventured off the path into the chaparral. Not only do I have to worry about Lyme Disease, but there is a new menace called Borrelia miyamotoi which is a close relative. Scientists think that infections of this bad boy spirochete may explain all those people who have shown the symptoms of Lyme Disease but not tested positive. The disease first appeared in Japan during the 1990s,spread to Russia, and found its way here. We thought, once more, that Miyamotoi was an East Coast thing, but a report issued in February by Stanford University researchers found that ticks infected with either it or Lyme Disease were to be found in every San Francisco Bay Area park that they tested. And if it is up there, it is down here in the darkness of the Orange.

What to do? The California Lyme Disease Association has issued a poster for children listing nine things that you can do to avoid becoming infected:

  1. Walk in the middle of trails; avoid sitting on logs and sitting on trees.
  2. Wear a hat, tuck in hair if possible.
  3. Wear a long sleeve shirt fitted at the wrist.
  4. Wear long pants tucked into tight socks or duct tape around the pants.
  5. Consider child appropriate repellants.
  6. Wear white or light colored clothing ato make it easier to see ticks.
  7. Do tick checks immediately and three days after outdoor activity.
  8. If you find a tick ask an adult to remove it carefully and consider saving it for testing.

If you want to keep up on developments here in California, you can follow the blogs Lyme Policy Wonk and Touched by Lyme. May you never become a contributor to the latter.

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