As Spring approaches and we think about enjoying the beautiful outdoors please keep in mind a few ways to keep you and your family safe from ticks and possible tick borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease. Knowledge is power, and the following is offered as a basic but thorough overview of what you should do to prevent this common and rather serious disease.
Lyme disease is an illness from a tick bite that has 3 stages:
Early localized disease: 3-30 days after a tick bite.
- A large red ring (larger than 2inches across) or bull’s eye (called erythema migrans) that starts at the site of the tick bite and can last 2 weeks to 2 months. It is not itchy or painful and is seen in 80% of infected people.
- A flu like illness with fever, headache, chills, fatigue, joint and muscle pain lasting a few days. Vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and cold symptoms or cough are not typically seen with Lyme disease.
Early disseminated disease: 2-12 weeks after the tick bite in about 20% of people who did not receive treatment will develop these problems.
- Rashes can be similar but smaller than the primary rash of erythema migrans (chronic migrating redness) with a flu-like illness of fever, fatigue, headache, muscle and joint pain.
- Eye problems, meningitis, and palsies of the facial nerves can be seen with or without a flu-like illness.
- Carditis (heart problems) such as heart block can develop.
Late disease: 6 weeks to 2 yr after the tick bite.
- Arthritis, most commonly the knee but can be other large joints.
- Rarely neurological problems develop (weakness, numbing/tingling, memory issues.)
Lyme disease is often diagnosed based on history and exams, as lab testing is not helpful in the first 4 weeks of infection and can be difficult to interpret. It is treated with a 2-4 week course of antibiotics. If you have been treated appropriately in the early stage of Lyme disease you almost never develop the later stages.
Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria which is transmitted by the blacklegged tick (in New England, the deer tick). These ticks are very tiny—often the size of a pinhead and do not fly or jump. Tick bites do not hurt or itch. A tick bite can only lead to Lyme disease if the tick is infected with the bacteria and if the tick has been attached longer than 48hrs.
Lyme disease is more common April through October with more than 50% cases occurring during June and July.
- Products that contain permethrin or picaridin (Duranon, Congo Tick Spray, Permanone) can be used on clothing and shoes, but not on skin.
- DEET containing products (20-30%) for children 2mo and older applied on skin (except face and hands) and clothing.
- Remove all clothing and, if possible shower/bath within 2 hr coming in from area where tick exposure is a concern.
- Do tick checks especially checking scalp, neck, armpits, and groin.
- Remove any tick (using tweezers grasp as close to skin as possible and pull gently and steadily straight upwards avoiding twisting and jerking.)
- Check pets and any outdoor gear.
- Place clothes in a dryer on high heat for 1 hr to kill any ticks.
A great website with more information is www.cdc.gov/lyme/
Also check with your child’s doctor’s office as they may have more information and handouts.