Parents are frequently telling me they are ticked-off wondering if they need to worry about Lyme disease in their children. While Lyme disease is not common in our area, children do get it, particularly if they have traveled along the eastern seaboard where the deer ticks that carry the disease reside. In fact, about 250 cases are usually reported during the spring and summer in Vermont, and upstate New York sees its fair share as well.
Lyme disease is an illness caused by the bite of a deer tick that injects a type of bacteria and is characterized by skin, heart, brain, and joint problems. The good news is that Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics and only 8-10% of people bitten by a deer tick actually get the disease. This is because it takes almost 48 hours for the tick to inject the Lyme bacteria and usually it is found or comes off long before that happens.
How can you tell if your child has been bitten by a deer tick? Unfortunately, they can be difficult to spot because they’re about the size of a pencil point or a sesame seed – much smaller than the common dog tick. The easier way to tell is that a “bulls-eye” rash may appear several days after the bite. It’s characterized by a red center surrounded by clear skin and then a ring of redness around the clear area. This rash may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms of fever, headache, fatigue and muscle and joint aches.
If you are worried about your child getting Lyme disease this summer, let me try to provide some information that might be helpful.
- Have your child avoid playing in areas where deer ticks hang out, such as at the edges of woods.
- If your child is going into wooded grassy areas, try to get your child to wear long pants, and light colored clothing making it easier to spot the ticks on their clothing and in turn more closely inspect their skin.
- Spray their clothing and exposed skin with insect repellent before going into a wooded area, but follow directions and do not overspray even if you cannot see it on their skin since toxic side effects can occur.
- When your children come in from the woods, have them remove their clothes so you can inspect their skin and their scalp for tick bites. Then send them off for a shower or bath which can also help remove small ticks.
- If you do see a tick on your child, grasp it with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pull up with a steady pressure. Try not to puncture, squeeze or crush the tick since that may leave a piece of the tick still attached to their skin and potentially still injecting the Lyme bacteria. Applying nail polish, alcohol or a match near the tick has not been shown to work.
If you have further questions about Lyme disease or tick bites, speak to your child’s doctor who can certainly provide further help. Hopefully, tips like this will allow you to toe the Lyme – or I mean toe the line – the next time you are worried about your child’s tick bites.
Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives.