Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted to humans through the bite from an infected tick. Although it can affect people of all ages, it is most commonly seen in children and in those who spend considerable time outdoors, therefore, increasing their risk of exposure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are an estimated 300,000 cases of diagnosed Lyme disease in the United States each year. It is most prevalent in the upper Northeast and Midwest.
What are some signs or symptoms of Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is considered a clinical diagnosis. This means that your doctor will make the diagnosis based on history of exposure and by examining your child. Blood tests are rarely helpful in making the diagnosis. If your child does contract Lyme disease, he or she will develop a red, expanding rash in 80-90 percent of cases. The rash usually appears seven to 14 days after exposure to a tick. Other nonspecific symptoms that may accompany the rash include fever, headache, and fatigue.
One of the most important pieces of information to convey to parents is that in order to transmit Lyme disease, a tick needs to attach to skin and feed somewhere between 36-72 hours. By that time, the tick usually appears engorged. It is also important to note that not every tick carries Lyme disease; in fact, most don’t. Therefore, a child who is bitten by a tick that does not appear engorged, and was removed earlier than 36 hours, is unlikely to develop Lyme disease.
My child was bitten by a tick, now what?
It is important to remove the tick as soon as possible. The recommended procedure for tick removal is actually quite simple. You grasp the head of the tick as close to the skin as possible using a pair of tweezers and slowly pull the tick upward without twisting. Clean the area with soap and water and use an antiseptic, such as iodine or hydrogen peroxide.
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Can Lyme disease be treated?
There is a general misconception that Lyme disease is difficult to cure. In fact, the prognosis of Lyme disease is excellent, whether treated in its early or late stages. The treatment for Lyme disease consists of an antibiotic prescribed by your pediatrician for 14-21 days. It is not recommended to conduct blood testing after treatment for Lyme disease in order to confirm that your child has been cured. This is because test results may remain positive even after treatment. Don’t be alarmed, this does not mean that your child is still infected.
How can I prevent Lyme disease?
Your child is at greatest risk for coming in contact with ticks in the spring and summer months (April-September) while playing outdoors in wooded areas. Preventative measures include avoiding wooded, brushy areas with tall grass and leaf litter; wearing long pants (tucked into socks) and long sleeved shirts when playing outdoors; performing whole-body checks for ticks while bathing or showering; and using tick repellents such as DEET. Occasionally, ticks may come into the home on clothing or pets. Clothes should be washed with hot water and should tumble dry on high heat for at least 10 minutes.
Note about DEET: Caution must be taken while using DEET. Always follow packaging instructions and labeling carefully. DEET should not be applied directly on the skin and should especially be avoided on the hands, eyes, and mouth.
Main image: When walking or playing in long grass or wooded areas, it's recommended you wear long pants and long sleeves to prevent ticks from biting.
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