10 Ways to Reduce Your Kid’s Risk of Getting Lyme Disease

10 Ways to Reduce Your Kid’s Risk of Getting Lyme Disease

New York has one of the highest rates of Lyme disease in the U.S.

Ticks carrying diseases, especially Lyme disease, may be lurking where you plan to spend time outdoors, even in a concrete jungle or suburban area. But don’t let that stop you from going outside, since there are plenty of benefits of rolling around in the dirt every now and again. Whether you’re heading out to your backyard or a local park, here are 10 things you can do to reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease, as told by Steven E. Phillips, M.D of Bay Area Lyme Foundation.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease, one of the most common infectious diseases in the country, is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, bacteria spread mainly through tick bites. There are approximately 329,000 new cases of Lyme each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and approximately 20 percent of these cases will develop chronic illness despite 30 days of recommended antibiotics.

Additionally, the CDC recognizes many other tick-borne diseases from bacteria that cause similar illness, but test negative for Lyme. One such bacterium is Borrelia miyamotoi, for which blood tests exist, but only through specialized send-out labs. And, there are no specific blood tests available for related bacteria, such as Borrelia lonestari, Borrelia bissettiae, and Borrelia mayonii, making it difficult for doctors to make definitive diagnoses of these diseases. Another infection spread by ticks, fleas, and lice, called bartonellosis, can cause chronic illness and is frequently confused with and/or accompanies Lyme. Studies demonstrate that the majority of chronic Lyme patients have this co-infection. Babesiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and ehrlichiosis are other dangerous tick-borne infections.

If caught early, most cases of tick-borne disease can be treated, but they’re commonly misdiagnosed due to lack of awareness and poor lab tests. In fact, cases reported to the CDC actually represent 10% percent of the total number of Lyme disease diagnoses in the U.S., based on newer estimates released by the CDC in 2015, and echoed by a CDC report in May.

Due to difficulties in diagnosing and treating Lyme, as many as 1 million Americans may be suffering from impacts of this potentially disabling chronic illness, according to Bay Area Lyme Foundation estimates. This is a many-faced disease, presenting as a range of neurologic, cardiac, and rheumatologic conditions. 

It’s not just a northeast problem, nor is it just an American problem. This is a global health crisis, with countless studies from around the world demonstrating the prevalence and devastating effects of these diseases.

Tips to Reduce the Chance of Getting Lyme Disease

To protect yourself and your family from Lyme, the Bay Area Lyme Foundation suggests the following:

  • Wear light-colored clothes, making ticks more visible.
  • Consider DEET for skin and permethrin for clothes. A single permethrin application to clothing can provide up to six weeks of protection, even after repeated washings.
  • Do tick-checks, both immediately after a potential exposure to ticks and then again three days after, when the ticks may be engorged and easier to spot. Check common places ticks might attach: underarms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind knees, between the legs, and in the hair.
  • Put clothes in a hot dryer for 10 minutes (before washing) after being in the woods or grassy areas.
  • Shower immediately after being in a risky area, as this may wash away ticks that have not yet latched on.
  • Know the symptoms of Lyme disease. Symptoms of the first stage of Lyme disease include headaches, flu-like symptoms, joint pain, fatigue, and sometimes a rash.
  • Don’t rely on a rash. Not all patients with Lyme disease have a rash as the initial symptom, and those that do get a rash might not get the bull’s-eye shape.
  • Learn how to remove ticks correctly. Position needle-nose tweezers between your skin and the tick's mouth and gently tug the tick straight up from your skin. It may take two or three tries. Be sure to wash your hands and the area around the bite after removing the tick. Removing the tick incorrectly could allow the tick’s mouth and bacteria to remain. 
  • If you have a yard, take precautions to minimize ticks, including keeping grass mowed. You can also fill toilet paper tubes with permethrin-sprayed cotton filling that local rodents can take back to their nests, killing ticks they carry. Just be sure kids don’t play with the tubes.
  • Confirm that your child’s camp provides counselors education about tick removal and Lyme disease symptoms, and appropriately reminds campers to do tick-checks.

Find more prevention tips and a symptom list at bayarealyme.org.