“We went into new habitats and found them in numbers we didn’t expect,” the lead author of a new study said.

By Linda Carroll

Beachgoers may have felt safe from Lyme disease, but a new study suggests those heading to the shore also need to keep a careful eye out for disease-carrying ticks.

Researchers in California were surprised to find just as many adult black-legged ticks carrying Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme, in areas of grass and scrub leading to the beach they did as in the woodland habitats in the northwestern part of the state.

“We went into new habitats and found them in numbers we didn’t expect,” said lead author Daniel Salkeld, a research scientist at Colorado State University.

“A few years ago I would have said the ticks there wouldn’t have been infected because there aren’t any grey squirrels, which are the source for Lyme in California.”

People may not be looking for ticks when heading to the beach, but the tiny bugs could be hiding in coastal grasses or nearby scrub areas.

“I think they’ve been under our noses all along,” Salkeld told NBC News. “We just haven’t thought to look very closely.”

Fortunately, for Californians, at least, the ticks aren’t a year-round problem. They’re only there during the rainy season, Sakeld said.

Lia Gaertner, director of education and outreach at the Bay Area Lyme Foundation, offered prevention tips:

  • Stay on trails and on sand.
  • Wear light clothing and use tick repellent.
  • Check and triple check your body — up to three days later.
  • Throw clothes into hot dryer once inside.
  • Shower.

“We tell people that if they find a tick attached to themselves, they should always save it so you can send it for identification and see what type it is and if it carries disease,” Gaertner said.

While black-legged ticks are predominantly a woodland and shrubland species, they can also be found in grasslands near the coast, said Richard S. Ostfeld, a tick expert and distinguished senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York.

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