If You're Going to the Beach, Watch Out for This Parasitic Bug

A new study shows that this dreaded arachnid is wreaking havoc at the beach.

Heading to the beach is a great way to leave all your worries behind. Unfortunately, a new study has found that there are more dangers lurking at the beach than just getting too much sun. In addition to slathering on sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun's rays, you also need to watch out for one nefarious arachnid. Researchers were surprised to find this blood-sucking bug at the beach when it was previously believed they were exclusively found in other areas. Read on to find out which bug you need to keep your eyes peeled for, and for more tips on protecting yourself, If You See This Bug, You Need to Vacuum It Up Immediately, Experts Say.

A new study found ticks at the beach.

Beach in Northern California
Shutterstock

A study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology on April 23 debunked the long-trusted advice that you only need to check for ticks after walking through a wooded area. Researchers made the shocking discovery that beaches in northern California were abundant with ticks carrying the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, at levels similar to wooded areas. The ticks weren't found on the beach itself but in the vegetation leading up to the beach. Walking past this en route to the sandy shores could put you at risk of getting bitten by one of these bloodsuckers.

"The high rate of disease-carrying ticks in the coastal chaparral was really surprising to us. And when looking at all the tick-borne pathogens simultaneously, it makes you rethink the local disease risk," lead author of the study Daniel Salkeld, PhD, said in a statement. Beaches can no longer be considered a safe place from ticks based on this new information, Linda Giampa, executive director at Bay Area Lyme Foundation, said in the statement. And for more on avoiding bloodsuckers, check out these 5 Things You're Buying That Bring Bed Bugs Into Your House, Experts Say.

Experts believe ticks are more widespread than we think.

Tick
Shutterstock

This study is the first to look for bacteria-carrying ticks in coastal vegetation. Salkeld told The Washington Post that the researchers decided to look for ticks in new frontiers, including "coastal scrub and … redwood forests and oak woodlands," because researchers tend to look for the bug in all the same areas. They were surprised to discover that "we found ticks pretty much wherever we looked," Salkeld said. "I don't think we were expecting to find many ticks, but we did, and we found heaps of ticks in big numbers. And they're infected with diseases."

Two experts who weren't involved with the study praised it to The Washington Post. Eva Sapi, PhD, director of the University of New Haven's Lyme disease research program, said the study prompts more unconventional research into tick habitats. "Let's go to more beaches and other places where we think there wouldn't be ticks, and I bet we'll find them," Sapi told The Washington Post. John Aucott, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Lyme Disease Clinical Research Center, said a significant takeaway from the study is that "the more we look, the more we find ticks everywhere and disease-infected ticks everywhere." And for more on getting rid of pests, If You See This Bug in Your Home, Don't Step on It, Experts Warn.

Lyme disease cases have increased dramatically over the years.

Elderly woman suffering from pain in hand at home, she is sitting in armchair in her room
iStock

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Lyme disease cases have nearly doubled since 1996. While the CDC states that less than 30,000 cases were reported in 2018, they also recently estimated—using commercial insurance claims data—that approximately 476,000 people were diagnosed with Lyme disease annually between 2010 and 2018. Because the reporting system "is a passive system that relies on busy health care providers to submit records, many cases do not get reported," the CDC explains.

Lyme disease is transmitted through a bite from an infected blacklegged tick, per the CDC. According to the Mayo Clinic, if untreated, Lyme disease can result in rashes, joint pain, and neurological problems, including inflammation in the membranes surrounding the brain, Bell's palsy, numbness or weakness in your limbs, and impaired ability to move your muscles. And for more useful information delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Take precautions at the beach to avoid ticks.

Beach in Northern California
Shutterstock

Giampa told The Washington Post that ticks in beach grassland lay in wait "for a human being or dog to come around, and they'll hop on and hitch a ride." To ensure you don't take a tick home with you, you should check your body for the pests before getting in the car. Giampa suggested checking the underarms, groin area, head, and the backs of your knees and ears. She also recommended tossing all your clothes from the beach in a hot dryer for 20 minutes to kill any lingering ticks.

"We are now encouraging residents to take preventative measures in beach areas and encouraging healthcare providers to learn the symptoms of tick-borne infections beyond Lyme disease," Giampa said in the statement. "Prevention of tick-borne disease is critical, and ecology studies like this highlight the need to be vigilant anytime we are in the outdoors." And for more ways to prevent bites, If You Smell This in Your Bedroom, You Might Have Bed Bugs.

Allie Hogan
Allie Hogan is a Brooklyn based writer currently working on her first novel. Read more
Filed Under