Lyme disease is caused by an infection from a tick bite. When the bite occurs, bacteria is injected into the body, causing the disease. While Lyme disease is not chronic, further complications can develop if your child is left untreated. This is because the disease can attack your child’s heart, nerves, joints or skin.
Children are at risk of Lyme disease because they tend to spend a lot of time running around outdoors. Ticks are often found in grasses or shrubs, specifically around the edges of wooded areas. If you are taking a family hike or live in areas where ticks are found, it’s important to check your child for ticks after being outside. Ticks that carry Lyme disease are found in the Mid-Atlantic states, the Northeast, upper Midwest and on the West Coast.
Finding a tick
If you do find a tick on your child, follow these steps:
- Find a pair of tweezers and grab the tick’s body with the end of the tweezers; pull upwards slowly until the skin "tents.” Once the skin tents, the tick should come off of your child. It’s important to get the entire tick off or out of your child’s body, so make sure not to squeeze the tick’s body too tightly.
- Try not to panic if you find a tick on your child. There is only about a 1-3% chance of developing Lyme disease from a tick bite.
- Since ticks cannot actually spread the bacteria that causes Lyme disease until they become engorged due to feeding, make sure to note the size of the tick you take off your child. If you notice it is engorged, try to note how long the tick may have been on your child, in case your child does develop symptoms and you need to bring him to a doctor.
Lyme disease symptoms
Here are the most common symptoms of Lyme disease:
- A red, round rash that develops around the middle of the bite
- Joint pain
- Unusual tiredness
If you notice any of these symptoms developing, or feel worried that your child may have contracted Lyme disease, make sure to call your child’s physician to schedule a check-up. If your child’s doctor does feel that he has Lyme disease, the doctor will most likely prescribe a course of antibiotics.
The doctor might also schedule a blood test to confirm your child is infected, before prescribing treatment. If the result of the test is negative, but your doctor still suspects that your child is infected, she may order a second blood test as a positive Lyme disease result might not appear until two to three weeks after the tick bit your child.
If your child does have the disease, make sure to give him the complete course of antibiotics and allow him to rest.
Preventing tick bites
Children (and adults!) are not immune to Lyme disease if they have already gotten it. So, the best way to keep your child safe is to prevent tick bites from happening.
Some helpful tips for preventing tick bites include:
- When playing outside in areas where ticks could be present, make sure to dress your child in long pants and shirts. Tucking pants into socks can also help keep ticks at bay. Ticks cannot bite through clothing, so covering your child’s skin is important.
- Bathe your child after outdoor activities. Water can help get rid of ticks that have not yet attached to the skin.
- Conduct regular tick checks on your child. Make sure to check areas such as your child’s belly button, neck, behind the ears and on your child’s head. Body parts that bend, including behind the knees, underarms, groin and in between fingers and toes can also be hiding places for ticks.
- When hiking, try to stick to paths instead of letting your child run into unknown territory.
While Lyme disease is rare, it’s important to take steps to prevent tick bites and to follow up with your child’s doctor if he develops symptoms after playing in an area that has ticks.
Stephanie Shabangu and Kelsey Sorvick, R.N., are from Penfield Children's Center.