Summer and early fall means more time in the great outdoors. As a result, there’s potential for exposure to ticks. Parents should know the risk of Lyme disease and know the best preventive techniques to safeguard their children. Daily tick checks, proper tick removal, and awareness of Lyme disease symptoms are the cornerstone of prevention.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial (caused by Borrelia burgdorferi) infection spread by infected ticks. It's the most common tick-born disease in the U.S. and Europe. The summer and early fall see peaks in this disease due to both a greater time outdoors and higher prevalence of these ticks.

Where are these ticks found?

The northeast states (New York, Maryland, Massachusetts), north central states (Wisconsin and Minnesota), and the west coast (especially Northern California) see the most cases of Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is heralded by a ring-like rash... other symptoms... include fever, fatigue, spreading of the rash, headaches, joint pain (usually the knee), central nervous system symptoms and heart problems.

Symptoms of Lyme disease

Lyme disease is heralded by a ring-like rash called erythema migrans. It occurs at the site of the tick bite in about 70-80 percent of infected children and will pop up about 3-30 days after an infected tick bites your child. This rash looks just like a bull's eye and if detected and diagnosed promptly, antibiotics can be administered to prevent progression and cure Lyme disease in most people (up to 20 percent may have persistent symptoms).

Besides the rash, other symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, fatigue, spreading of the rash, headaches, joint pain (usually the knee), central nervous system symptoms and heart problems.

Prevention is key

Since it can take up to 36 hours for an infected tick to transmit the bacteria, daily tick checks after being outdoors (especially in heavily wooded or moist areas) is your best defense.

Once your child returns home, have them take a bath or shower and do a careful tick inspection. Ticks are often not felt and they do not hurt when they bite, so checking your child's body is very important. These ticks can also be extremely tiny and hard to see so be extra meticulous after a long day outdoors.

If you notice a tick on your child's skin, get some tweezers and gently pull the tick straight out. Do not wiggle or twist it. Also, avoid using Vaseline or a hot match to smother the tick or get it to release. These old folklore remedies are not advised since they can cause the tick to burrow deeper into the skin. Once the tick is removed, wash the area with soap and water. Make a note of where the tick bite occurred in case a rash appears and you need to tell your child's doctor.

Before heading outdoors

Prep your child before a long day outdoors or hike. Dress your child in light colored, long clothing if possible. Tuck their pant legs into their socks and use insect repellant containing at least 20 percent DEET (but no more than 30 percent) to exposed areas of skin. You can even spray their clothing but avoid their eyes and mouth. Sprays containing permethrin may also be used for clothing and other gear but not directly on the skin.

Dr. mom's Bottom line^ Lyme disease can be a potentially chronic and debilitating disease. Take these simple preventive measures to make sure your child is protected from this tick-born illness.

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