Understanding Lyme Disease

lyme disease rash Bull's-eye rash caused by Lyme disease Recently, there have been reports of an increase in cases of Lyme disease. It's important for all parents to understand Lyme disease, its symptoms and how to prevent it.

Facts about Lyme disease

  • Lyme disease is caused by bacteria and is transmitted through the bite of infected ticks.
  • Blacklegged ticks (also called deer ticks) are most common in the northeast, mid-Atlantic, and northcentral regions of the United States. However, almost every state has reported cases of Lyme disease in a given year.
  • Deer ticks live in forests or in grassy, wooded and damp areas near bodies of water.
  • Most people are infected by baby ticks, called nymphs. They are less than 2 mm long and are abundant in the summer months. Adult ticks, which are larger and more common in cooler months, are more likely to be seen and removed before they have the chance to transmit bacteria.
  • Ticks can attach to any part of the human body, but their favorite places are the neck, hairline, armpits and groin.
  • A tick needs to be attached to its host for 36 to 48 hours before the bacteria can spread. Lyme disease is only transmitted through the bite of infected ticks — you can't get Lyme disease from mosquitos, fleas, lice or other insects.
  • You can't get Lyme disease from another person, or from eating meat.

Symptoms and treatment of Lyme disease

If you live near or have recently visited an area where ticks are common, you should call your pediatrician immediately if your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • A red rash that looks like a small pink circle. This rash expands, growing outward to look like a bull's-eye. There may be one circle or a few. The rash may look irritated or be itchy
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle and joint aches

In most cases, Lyme disease is easily recognized and responds to treatment with antibiotics. If left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to infections of the nervous system, such as meningitis or facial muscle palsy.

Preventing tick bites

Here are some steps you can take to prevent tick bites:

  • Avoid areas where ticks live.
  • Wear a hat, long pants and long sleeves when walking in shaded, wooded areas.
  • Pull your child’s hair back in a ponytail.
  • Use insect repellent with less than 30 percent DEET to repel ticks. Spray the repellent on your child's clothes and exposed skin, avoiding his face and ears. Do not use any products that contain DEET on children younger than 2 months of age.
  • Give your child a shower at the end of the day to wash off any repellent residue. Also, wash any clothing treated with the repellent before your child wears it again.
  • Check your child for ticks after she has spent time in wooded areas. Don't forget to look along her hairline, on her neck and under her arms.

What to do if you find a tick on your child

If you find a tick on your child, take the following steps to remove it:

  • Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Try not to squeeze the tick's body. Slide one side of the tweezers under the tick’s head. Use the other side to grasp its head.
  • Pull firmly until the tick lets go. Don't twist it or rock it from side to side. If part of the tick is left on the skin, it will fall off on its own. If the part that is left is the mouth, use the tweezers to pull it off the skin.
  • Don't destroy the tick with your fingers. Place it in a baggie or flush it down the toilet.
  • Wash the site with soap and water and apply rubbing alcohol or first-aid ointment.

After you have removed the tick, call your pediatrician to see if your child should be evaluated. If your child develops a rash or flu-like symptoms, take him to the doctor right away so treatment can begin as soon as possible.