A reality check on ticks and Lyme disease

(Photo provided)

The possibility of children getting Lyme disease really ticks off parents. Lyme is on the rise, and children who play outdoors in areas where deer ticks live are at risk.

Last year, Vermonters reported almost 500 cases of Lyme. Northern New York has its fair share as well. Symptoms of Lyme disease include skin, heart, brain and joint problems. If you are concerned about your child getting Lyme disease, let me provide some information that might be helpful.

First, the tick that carries the germ for Lyme disease is much smaller than the common dog tick. It’s about the size of a pencil point or a sesame seed and is hard to detect.

One of the earliest signs of Lyme is a “bull’s-eye rash” that can occur several days after the bite. The rash has a red bump surrounded by clear skin and then a ring of redness around the clear area. This bulls-eye can be several inches wide. Flu-like symptoms of fever, headache, fatigue and muscle and joint aches usually accompany the rash.

The good news is that less than 5 percent of people bitten by the deer tick actually get Lyme disease. This is because it takes almost 48 hours for the tick to inject the Lyme bacteria. Usually people discover the tick long before it has spent two days on you or your child.

If you see a tick on your child, remove it using tweezers. Grasp it as close to the skin as possible and pull up with a steady upward pressure. Try not to puncture, squeeze or crush the tick. Applying nail polish, alcohol or a match near the tick will not work.

How can you or your child avoid ticks?

• Don’t spend time at the edges of woods or other areas where the tiny deer tick can thrive.

• Dress yourself and your child in long clothing when going into wooded, bushy, or areas with high grasses.

• Light colored clothing can help you to see a tick before it bites your child.

• Spray clothing and exposed skin with insect repellent.

• When your child comes in from the woods, have them remove their clothes.

• Inspect your child’s skin and their scalp for ticks after play in an area where ticks may be present.

If you have further questions about Lyme disease or tick bites, speak to your child’s health care professional. They can provide further help. If they diagnose you or your child with Lyme, they can also prescribe antibiotics to help treat the disease.

Hopefully these tips will allow you to “toe the Lyme,” or is that “the line,” when you worry about ticks.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, MD, College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9-FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.uvmhealth.org/medcenterfirstwithkids.

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