Don't Panic, Take Precautions
Of course, there are plenty of pediatricians who fall somewhere in the middle of these two warring camps, and they use their best judgment to treat their patients or refer them to specialists when necessary. What no one disputes, however: It's best to keep children from getting Lyme disease in the first place. Since there's no vaccine, you should take steps to avoid ticks if you live in a high-risk area. As a parent, you'll probably roll your eyes when you read the usual advice: Dress your kids in long-sleeved shirts with pants tucked into their socks whenever they play outdoors, even in the heat of summer. "It's not very practical -- plus there's the nerd factor," admits Dr. Johnson. Fortunately, there are other effective strategies that won't overheat your child or ruin his social standing in the neighborhood.
- Clear away fallen leaves in your yard, where ticks thrive, and mow the grass frequently.
- If you have a swing set or play structure, move it to a sunny area away from trees and shrubs.
- Keep your pets out of the woods, if possible, and talk to your vet about tick repellents. Although there are Lyme vaccines for dogs, being vaccinated won't keep dogs from bringing ticks indoors.
- Choose an insect repellent with DEET, and check the label to be sure the product is formulated to repel ticks. High concentrations seem to work best against ticks, but the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against using a formula with more than 30 percent DEET on children.
- Avoid dressing kids in open-toed shoes or sandals. Traditionally, experts have also suggested wearing light-colored clothing so it's easier to spot ticks, but one study found that ticks are more attracted to light colors, so the jury's out on that advice.
- Use products containing permethrin, such as Permanone, only on clothes, not skin. Let the spray dry completely before putting the treated clothing on your child. One application stays effective through several washings.
- Remove ticks from your child's clothes outside. Any ticks that you might have missed will be killed by washing clothes and drying them in a hot dryer.
- Finally, check your child carefully in the bath or shower, and remove any ticks immediately. (Don't bother saving a tick; few doctors are able to identify different types, and experts say that sending the bug to a specialist isn't worthwhile.) To make head checks easier, use a hair dryer on cool to blow the hair away from the scalp so you can see the skin. Says Dr. Johnson, "It's a drag to look for ticks, but I encourage people who live in an area where Lyme disease is common to do it at least once a day."