Avoiding black-legged deer ticks is the best way to keep your child safe and prevent Lyme disease, but how?
Lyme disease doubled in the US from the early 90’s to 2014, according to the EPA. The states hit the hardest? Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire. Pediatricians, Infectious Disease physicians and Rheumatologists all across the country are now familiar with this disease. They are well armed to care for children using proven antibiotic treatments, but currently there is NO vaccine against Lyme disease.
Lyme can be a challenging condition to diagnose in children. Especially true for young children, who can’t always describe their symptoms. So your best defense is a great offense, and prevent tick bites all together.
Use these five proven strategies to avoid ticks:
- Insect repellants with 25% DEET will repel ticks and is safe to use on infants 2 months and older AND pregnant women. While its still unclear whether a pregnant woman can transmit Lyme to her fetus, it is known that Lyme while pregnant can increase risk of still birth. Please use repellants that are rated to repel ticks! Lemon of Eucalyptus oil is an alternative, but CANNOT be used on children under the age of 3.
- Dress children in long sleeved shirts and long pants with tall socks and sneakers when playing near wooded areas or tall grass. Ditch the flip flops and crocs! Ditch the super short-shorts! There are excellent children’s light weight pants and UPF rated long sleeved shirts that are perfect for spring AND summer weather.
- Check your child for ticks every night in spring and summer months. Behind the ears, in their armpits, behind the knees, and in the groin are the most likely spots to find them! Female ticks in the nymph stage are no bigger than a poppy seed. If you see a freckle that you’re not familiar with, get a magnifying glass and get a closer look.
- Get your yard treated through a pest control company with tick repellant, or check out this comprehensive list of sprays you can apply yourself. Always treat pets with tick rated products because pets can get Lyme also.
- DIY a tick safe yard! Make a 3 foot border of mulch between any mature growth and your lawn so that ticks can’t cross. Check out these landscaping tricks.
Removing a Tick From Your Child
If you find a tick on your child, don’t hesitate. I’ve had some families bring their child to the office to have the tick removed. Up to 25% of female deer ticks carry Lyme disease, and since theres no way to know whether the one on your child carries Lyme or not, it is not safe to wait hours for an appointment. Remove the tick immediately with tweezers and avoid squeezing the body if possible! Instead, use needle point tweezers to grasp the head of the tick and pull straight up. Carefully and quickly removing a tick will significantly reduce your child’s chance of getting Lyme disease.
Do not use anything else, like petroleum jelly, essential oils, or a lit match! Do not try to ‘dig out’ the mouth pieces if some of the tick is retained in the skin. I’ve seen first hand the damage done to a child’s skin by well-meaning parents who picked at the bite, and because of the resulting injury, it was difficult to monitor the area of a bull’s eye rash.
Once you remove the tick, either save the tick in a zip lock bag if you’re not sure what type it is, or flush it! Clean the area that was bitten with rubbing alcohol. Then mark the date of the bite on your calendar, so in a few weeks if a rash appears or if your child has fevers, you can tell your doctor when the bite occurred.
Thinking of sending a tick to your local health department for testing? If your community is collecting data on ticks, then go for it. However, even if the tick you pulled off your child tests positive for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, it’ll take weeks to get that information. It also doesn’t prove that the tick actually transmitted Lyme to your child. If you check your children for ticks every day, it is very unlikely a tick was on your child for more than 2 days. This makes it also very unlikely that tick transmitted a tick borne disease. However, if your child was with other care givers for a few days or at sleep away camp? Then it does make it more difficult to nail down a time line of when or where your child was bit. In these situations, testing is one of many pieces of information you’ll need over the next few weeks.
When in doubt, call your pediatrician. If you live in a high risk area, then it is likely your office has a protocol for tick bites. Bring it up at your child’s next well visit. A tick bite is serious, and having a plan in place is as important as having a fire escape route in your home. Be prepared with good insect repellant, appropriate clothes, sharp tweezers, rubbing alcohol, and quick call to your child’s doctor whenever you aren’t sure what to do.
Lyme is easily prevented when parents know how to help their children avoid tick bites!