Lyme disease is a bacterial disease spread by the bite of a particular kind of tick, know as the deer tick. Early symptoms of Lyme disease include a red, non-itchy rash, usually near the site of the tick bite, and flu-like symptoms (fever, headache, body aches). These symptoms occur a few days to several weeks after the tick bite. Sometimes the rash is absent or difficult to see, under hair, ect. If the disease is not recognized and adequately treated at this stage, it can progress to more chronic forms. Symptoms of more chronic forms of Lyme disease include facial nerve paralysis (Bell's Palsy), heart arrhythmias, memory loss, and arthritis of large joints, typically knees, shoulders, ect. Treatment with antibiotics is most successful if the disease is recognized in the early stage. Treatment of chronic Lyme disease is still effective, but achieving a complete cure is more difficult and costly.
How can I prevent Lyme disease?
Perform a tick check every day if the ground is not frozen. Deer ticks need to be attached to the skin and suck blood for at least 12 hours before they transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. This means if you check the children every evening and remove any ticks found, the chances for contracting Lyme disease are greatly decreased. To check for ticks, closely examine skin as well as feel through hair, behind ears, ect. Although, the ticks are small and look like a freckle, they are raised, and you will find them if you look and feel carefully.
If an outing is planned in a tick-laden area, notify parents so that they can provide the proper clothing. Ideally, children should wear pants tucked into socks, and shirts tucked into pants, so that ticks must travel all the way to your head to find uncovered skin; this gives you more time to find and remove them before they attach. You may want to ask parents to provide tick repellent or ask their permission to apply it. Applying a small amount of tick repellent to shoes or socks, pants, ect., decreases the likelihood of ticks attaching to clothing.
How can I tell if the tick is the kind that can transmit Lyme disease?
Deer ticks, which sometimes carry Lyme disease bacteria, are solid brown color; dog ticks, which don't usually carry Lyme disease bacteria, have white streaks on their backs, especially near the mouthparts. Although deer ticks are generally smaller than dog ticks, the adult stage can become rather large when full of blood, so don't rely on size alone.
What do I do if a child is bitten by a deer tick?
Remove the tick as soon as possible and save it for identification and possible analysis. Notify parents as they may want to consult with their pediatrician. Treatment with oral antibiotics is most successful if initiated within the first few weeks after the tick bite occurs.
How do I remove a tick?
Using tweezers, grasp the tick at the area where it is embedded in the skin. Pull gently backwards. Do not put alcohol, vaseline or any other substance on the tick, as it may traumatize the tick, making it more likely to transmit bacteria. If the mouthparts break off from the body, apply antibiotic ointment and a bandage; the mouthparts act like a splinter and generally work their way out in a few days.
What do I do with the tick?
If you find a tick on a child, you may place it in a sealed container or bag with a few blades of grass to provide moisture and give it to the parent. They may want to have the tick identified or tested to determine if it contains the Lyme disease causing bacteria.
Can pets transmit Lyme disease to children?
Pets don't directly transmit Lyme disease to people, but can bring ticks into the house. You can minimize this by using prescription quality tick collars and tick repellent products available from your veterinarian. Use of these products will also help prevent Lyme disease in pets. Ticks that have already attached in your pet's skin will not detach and bite you!