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Q&A with the Scientific Programs Manager

May contain: person and human

Meet Dr. Kelly Liebman, Scientific Programs Manager at the District! Kelly has been studying and working with vector-borne diseases for more than 15 years. With an educational and professional background in public health and entomology, she joined the District in April 2018 after working as a biologist with the California Department of Public Health, Vector-borne Disease Section.

While out and about in the counties, Kelly and our lab staff are commonly asked a number of interesting questions about what we do and why we do it. Here are the answers to some of those questions.

Q: What are you doing with that white flag? Surrendering?

A: As part of our tick surveillance program, we go out onto public trails and monitor ticks. To do this, we drag a white cloth along the trail for about 15 steps, then check it for ticks. The flannel fabric mimics animal hide (or human skin/clothes!), so ticks that are looking for a host will grab onto the cloth. The white color makes it easier for us to spot the tiny ticks.

Q: I have seen so many ticks this year! Is it a big tick year?

A: This is a question that we get every year. Unfortunately, we don’t have any data to be able to say if there are more ticks out one year compared to another. It’s important to remember that there is variability on each trail from year to year. You may see a ton of ticks one year, and then virtually none the next! This unpredictability is why we emphasize the use of personal protective measures to avoid tick bites, even in areas you think might not have ticks.

Q: How do you protect yourself when you’re out looking for ticks?

A: We follow the same suggestions that we recommend for the public. This includes using an EPA registered repellent, wearing light-colored clothing with long sleeves/pants, and treating clothes and boots with permethrin. While we are at the park, we do our best to stay on the trails, though this can be tricky for us these days since we do like to move out of the way to keep 6 feet apart from other visitors. Because of this we do periodic tick checks while we are collecting. When we return to the office, we change our clothes and check for ticks. For more information on preventing tick bites, please see our website at

Q: Do all ticks carry the same diseases?

A: Not all ticks carry the same diseases. Here in Marin and Sonoma counties, the most prevalent pathogens are carried by the western black-legged tick, Ixodes pacificus.

 Q: When is tick season in California?

A: Tick season in California is year-round. The different species and life stages come out at different times of the year, so it’s not uncommon to find ticks throughout Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. We often say that November 1st is the start of the adult season for the western black-legged tick, which usually corresponds with the first rain of the season. The nymphs of this species start to come out more in the spring. However, it is possible to find both adults and nymphs of Ixodes pacificus all year round! The best thing to do is assume that it is always tick season and do your best to prevent tick bites.

Q: I saw an article that says ticks are at the beach. Are they in the sand?

A: There is no evidence to suggest that ticks can be found in the sand at local beaches. However, ticks can be found in coastal areas with woodland and coastal chaparral habitats. To avoid encountering ticks on your way to the beach you should use designated trails and stay in the middle to avoid contact with vegetation.

For more information regarding tick-bite prevention visit


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