Spring is here! Tick and Lyme disease prevention tips

Kids bike ridingSpringtime temperatures and warmer, sun-filled days are synonymous with outdoor play. Kids of all ages shed their winter jackets; break out their tricycles, bicycles and more, and head outside for playtime.

But outdoor activities are also synonymous with tick exposure.

So how can you prepare your family for the tick season?

The Boston Children’s Hospital’s Director of Infectious Disease Outpatient Practice, Dr. Catherine Lachenauer offers tips on how to avoid tick exposure and steps to take if your child gets a tick bite.

“First and foremost, prevention is key,” says Lachenauer. “Avoid areas at the edge of the woods with long grasses. Also, wearing long, light-colored clothing helps keep ticks from getting on the skin and makes it easier to recognize one on your body.”

Ticks and Lyme disease

While wood ticks and dog ticks are common, deer ticks are most worrisome because they transmit Lyme disease, an infection that can affect a person’s skin, joints, nervous system and possibly organs. It is the leading tick-borne illness in the U.S. and occurs mostly in the Northeast, upper Midwest and Pacific coast areas. Deer ticks do exist in southern states, but Lyme disease is much less prevalent there.

“Since deer ticks need 36 hours to transmit the Lyme germ, parents should check their children for ticks every day, especially in the warm months,” says Lachenauer. “Pay particular attention to parts of the body with skin folds, like armpits and necks.”

Deer tick

What does a deer tick look like?

Adult deer ticks that are not filled with human blood are usually the size of a sesame seed. Engorged deer ticks will be larger and easier to spot. Females are usually reddish orange with a brown spot, and males are brown all over.

Tick avoidance tips

Outdoor activities: Ticks like low-level shrubs and grasses, particularly at the edges of wooded areas. If you are hiking, try to stay in the center of the trail and avoid bushwhacking. Tucking pant legs into socks can help prevent ticks from getting on your skin, says Lachenauer. Wearing light-colored clothing also makes spotting ticks easier.

Tick check: Lachenauer recommends parents frequently check their children for ticks, making sure to look in the armpits, backs of the knees, groin areas and scalp.

Deer ticks can be extremely tiny and can measure less than one millimeter across, so search meticulously. Lyme disease is usually not transmitted when the tick has been attached for less than 48 hours, so the earlier ticks are discovered, the better.

The details on DEET: Insect repellents containing DEET are effective against ticks. However, the concentration of DEET varies among products, so it’s crucial to read the label. The maximum concentration currently recommended for infants and children is 30 percent.

How do I remove a tick?

If a tick is discovered on a child, Lachenauer advises parents follow these steps:

  • Remove the tick using a fine-tipped pair of tweezers.
  • Pull upward steadily, but don’t twist or jerk the tick because it may break apart, leaving its mouth inside the child’s skin.
  • Once the tick is removed, clean the bite area and your hands with soap and water.
  • For at least 30 days afterward, check the bite area for a rash, and inform your child’s doctor if one appears.

It’s not necessary to go to a doctor after a tick bite, but if you have questions or want a consult, see your child’s pediatrician. Take note of the size and color of the tick, as well as your estimate of the time it has been attached and whether or not it is engorged.

Watch for symptoms

After a tick bite, watch your child for developing symptoms. A red circular rash at the site of the tick bite, often referred to as a bull’s-eye rash, is an early sign of Lyme disease. Some patients have multiple ring lesions.

Non-specific symptoms that may signal Lyme disease include:

·      fever

·      headache

·      fatigue

·      muscle and joint aches

If your child develops any of these symptoms, call your child’s pediatrician to ensure proper diagnosis.

How are deer tick bites treated?

In a minority of cases, a single dose of medication may be prescribed to prevent Lyme disease after a tick bite. This is recommended only with deer tick bites and when a deer tick has been attached for at least 36 hours,

Antibiotics can be given within 72 hours of tick removal, and the patient is at least 8 years of age and can otherwise take doxycycline.

Courses of other antibiotics are not generally recommended for prevention of Lyme disease following a tick bite.

Get our Spring health cheat sheet to keep your family healthy and active all season.