Friends of China Camp – Spring 2021


Learn how to protect yourself from pesky parasites

Text and photos by Harriot Manley



“Get it off me!”

Ticks. Few things in life can so uniformly elicit the same responses from almost everyone. Honestly, have you ever heard someone say, “Wow, look at all the cute ticks I collected on my walk today!” 

Truth is, we may have  found the one person who might actually say that. She’s Megan Saunders, PhD, Senior Public Health Biologist for the California Department of Public Health (DPH), with labs based in nearby Richmond. Dr. Saunders and her colleagues find dozens and dozens of the pesky parasites as they beat coyote brush and other shrubs that flourish in our region. 

We caught up with Dr. Saunders on a recent visit to China Camp, which, like much of Marin’s wild areas in late winter and spring, is prime tick habitat. In fact, China Camp is frequently monitored by DPH, which tracks the spread of tick-borne diseases.

“I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up,” says the petite scientist, hair in pigtails and sporting a yellow baseball cap adorned with a giant emblem of (you guessed it) a tick. “But,” she says with a smile, “I found out I liked studying blood-sucking critters better.” Tick species she’s likely to find in the park include Western black-legged tick, Pacific Coast tick, and American dog tick.

To safely collect these tiny members of the arachnid family, Dr. Saunders and other DPH experts hold sheet-like tick catchers under shrubs, shake and bang the branches, then gather up the fallen ticks in small vials. Back at the Richmond lab, ticks are tested to see if they carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, or other potentially dangerous diseases that ticks can transmit to humans.

4 steps to reduce the risk of tick bites

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, tick-borne diseases occur all over the world, even in your own backyard. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to dramatically reduce the risk of getting bitten, and of getting a serious illness if you do get a tick bite.

  1. Before you head out on a trail, apply a chemical repellent with DEET, permethrin, or picaridin.
  2. Wear light-colored protective clothing. (It’s easier to spot ticks on lighter colors.) Tuck pant legs into socks.
  3. Stay on trails, and avoid walking through tall grasses, shrubs, and under low-hanging branches.
  4. After a hike, especially this time of year, check yourself, your children, and your pets for ticks.

What to do if a tick has bitten you

Follow these steps to safely remove a tick, and ways to avoid getting sick from a tick-borne disease.

  • Use tweezers to grab the tick as close to your skin as possible.
  • Pull firmly, straight out. Do not jerk or twist. Do not burn the tick before or during the extraction.
  • After removal, wash your hands and the bite site with soap and water. Apply a topical antiseptic, and an adhesive bandage if desired.
  • Note the date. If you develop a rash or flu-like symptoms within 30 days of the tick bite, see your doctor.
  • You can also mail the tick to Marin Health and Human Services for analysis.

Helpful tick identification cards are also available at China Camp’s Back Ranch Meadows Campground entrance kiosk.

For more information on ticks and tick-borne diseases, visit the California Department of Public Health website.