Hikers cautioned after Sorrento Valley ticks test positive for ‘rabbit fever’

Tularemia has been detected in ticks in Sorrento Valley.
(Courtesy of San Diego County Public Health Services)

Several ticks recently collected along the Lopez Canyon Trail in Sorrento Valley have tested positive for tularemia, a bacterial disease that can cause severe illness and even death, county officials reported Friday, Aug. 30.

Tularemia is also known as “rabbit fever” because it is often found in wild hares, rabbits and rodents. The disease is most commonly transmitted by ticks that bite infected animals and then bite humans and pets who walk in backcountry areas or grassy trails.

Ticks are parasites that look for food — a blood source — by creeping out on vegetation and leaves and extending their hooked front legs to latch onto passing prey.

The disease is not passed from person to person.

A human case of tularemia hasn’t been reported in San Diego County since 2005. But there have been numerous reports of tick infections centered around the Lopez Canyon Trail, which runs through the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve and parallels Sorrento Valley Boulevard to the north.

Six batches of infected ticks have been reported so far this year, adding to numerous cases found in the same area last year.

Anyone bitten by a tick should remove it, using tweezers to grab it as closely to the head as possible. Keep an eye out for symptoms of infection, such as a rash, chills, a headache, body aches or a fever, for the next week. See a doctor if symptoms develop and explain where and when the tick bite occurred.

The disease can be treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, it can spread to other areas of the body and grow more serious.

Ticks can also pass on other diseases, including Lyme disease and spotted fever illnesses, although those are rare in San Diego County.

County officials are warning hikers to protect themselves from tick bites:

- Wear insect repellent.

- Wear long sleeves and long pants while hiking. Tuck shirts into pants and pants into boots.

- Check yourself and your companions for ticks before returning home.

- Stay on designated paths.

- Don’t handle wild rodents.

- Protect pets by keeping them on leash and using an insecticide regimen.
-- Kristina Davis is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune