As the weather improves and children spend more time outdoors, it’s important to take precautions against the threat of Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is an infection transmitted by deer ticks and the western black legged tick. Although other types of ticks carry Lyme bacteria, there is no evidence that their bites transmit the disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 300,000 Americans are diagnosed each year with Lyme disease. Only about one-tenth of those cases are reported to CDC, and of the reported cases, 37 percent are children, CDC says.
The first sign of Lyme disease is often a red rash at the site of the tick bite that can have a “bull’s-eye” appearance. The early stages of Lyme disease may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue, stiff neck, chills, swollen lymph nodes, muscle ache and join pain. The skin rash may expand around the tick bite.
Lyme disease can also mirror those of mononucleosis and migraines. In more advanced disease, nerve problems and arthritis, especially in the knees, may occur.
Early diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease can prevent serious illness and long-term complications. However, if left undetected, it can cause a multitude of symptoms that can affect children’s health, behavior and school performance.
The good news is that there are ways you can prevent your child from being infected with Lyme disease.
- Check regularly for ticks, particularly after playing outdoors. Be sure to check the creases of the skin, ankles, behind ears and knees, and between the toes.
- Check hair thoroughly. Because deer ticks are so small, they can be hard to spot. Use a comb to separate hair as you look for ticks, or use a magnifying glass.
- Dress in light-colored clothing, which will make it easier to see ticks. Wear a long-sleeve shirt, and, if possible, tuck pants into socks, pull back hair and wear a hat.
- Consider a repellant. While insect repellants with DEET are effective, studies have shown that they are toxic. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends products used on kids should have no more than 30 percent DEET.
- Remove a tick immediately. Use tweezers to grasp the tick near its head or mouth and pull gently to remove the whole tick without breaking or crushing it. (The CDC website has instruction on tick removal.)
- Put the tick in a sealed container such as a resealable lunch bag, and place it in the freezer. You can request that your child’s doctor have it tested at a lab if there is concern that it is a deer tick.
- Use soap and water to wash your hands and the area around the tick bite after it has been removed.
- Watch for symptoms.
- Call the doctor. Lyme disease takes 7 to 10 days to develop, so a test performed on your child soon after a tick bite is more likely to be negative. Consult your child’s doctor to determine if medication should begin right away.