General information

Frequently Asked Questions about Ticks

How can I protect myself from ticks?

  • When outdoors in areas where there may be ticks, wear long pants and sleeves. Don’t wear shorts, sleeveless shirts, or sandals. Tuck pants into socks or boots, and shirts into pants. Light-colored clothing makes it easier to see ticks before they attach to the skin.
  • The insect repellents that work for mosquitoes are effective against ticks. Look for formulas containing DEET. These should be applied according to the label instructions only. Insect-repellent clothing is also available. Children should not apply concentrations of DEET higher than 10%.
  • Ticks are often found in brush, tall grass, or leaf litter. When hiking, walk in the center of the trail. Avoid grassy or brushy areas, and don’t hike off the trail.
  • After outdoor activities in areas where there may be ticks, check yourself, your children, your pets, and your gear carefully for ticks. Remember to check areas that cannot be easily seen, such as inside and around ears, on the scalp, and under arms. Showering soon after being outdoors can help rinse away unattached ticks, and will allow you to check all areas of your body.

What diseases do ticks carry?

Different kinds of ticks can carry different diseases. Not all tick-borne diseases are found in ticks in San Mateo County. You can learn more on our tick-borne disease page.

If I’m bitten by a tick will I get sick?

Most tick bites do NOT result in tick-borne illness because only about 1-3% of ticks present in San Mateo County are infected with a tick-borne disease. However, you can further reduce your risk by removing the tick promptly. In most cases, a tick removed within 48 hours of attachment will not transmit disease.

How do I remove a tick?

  • Use tweezers or tissue (not bare hands) to grasp the tick as close to the surface of the skin as possible. If ticks are crushed with bare fingertips, exposure to the tick body fluids may lead to transmission of the disease organisms.
  • Pull away from the skin using steady, even pressure. Don’t jerk or twist the tick. Never try to burn or smother a tick.
  • After removal, wash the bite area and your hands with soap and water, or use a disinfectant solution.
  • Save the tick for identification and testing. Place the tick in a plastic bag containing a wet paper towel. Ticks can be brought to the District office for identification only or submitted to the County Health Laboratory, located at 225 West 37th Street, Room 113, San Mateo, California for testing. For more information, call (650) 573-2500.
  • Consult a health professional if you are unable to completely remove a tick, or if you develop a rash or fever after being bitten by a tick. 

Are ticks active all year?

In San Mateo County, ticks are most active in the spring.

How do you monitor tick-borne diseases?

Ticks are collected using a technique called ‘flagging’. Staff collect ticks by dragging a square of white fabric through the grass, leaf litter, and brush alongside trails. These ticks are identified and analyzed in the laboratory to determine which tick-borne diseases are present in the area.

Can you spray for ticks?

It isn’t feasible to spray for ticks in our parks. Instead, we recommend you take precautions to avoid exposure to ticks (see above).

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