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Tahoe a tick fever ‘hotbed’

Amanda Fehd
Soft tick
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A rare tick-borne disease is making its rounds at Tahoe at an unprecedented pace, according to health officials.

Tick-borne relapsing fever is non-lethal in most cases, but can result in serious complications if left untreated.

People contract the disease from soft ticks, which live in the nests of small animals like mice and chipmunks. Rustic, rodent-infested cabins are often a source of the disease.



“The Tahoe Basin is becoming a hotbed for this disease,” said El Dorado County Health Officer Jason Eberhart-Phillips.

Five cases were reported here last year. Health officials have identified three cases so far this summer.



There are only about 25 cases of tick-borne relapsing fever in the United States each year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. The disease is endemic to high-altitude, coniferous Western forests.

Doctors in the area are well aware of the disease and will recognize its symptoms, said Ginger Huber with El Dorado County’s Department of Environmental Management.

“It’s kind of like plague, we know it’s endemic to our area, people just need to be aware of it and take the proper precautions,” Huber said. Bubonic plague has occurred in the Sierras, but no recent cases have been reported.

“The most important thing is to not sleep in rustic cabins or homes that have obvious rodent infestations,” she said.

A woman who lived in an urban home in Tahoe contracted a serious case of the illness last year. The home was being remodeled and birds had bored holes that allowed rodents to enter the walls and build nests.

Soft ticks usually bite at night and transmit the disease within minutes of finding a host. People who usually do not know they have been bitten.

Patients experience high fevers and flu-like symptoms that last about three days then disappear, then come back after about seven days. The relapsing fevers can occur up to 10 times in people who are not treated, according to the CDC.

CDC estimates the disease is fatal in 5 to 10 percent of cases if left untreated.


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