What You Need to Know About Lyme Disease

Is My Child at Risk?

family lying down in the grass

Fancy Photography/Veer

Children ages 5 to 13 are at particularly high risk for tick bites because they play outside so much. While ticks prefer densely wooded and bushy areas with tall grass, most kids and adults get bitten by a tick when they're playing or doing other activities like gardening right near their home. Always check your child from head to toe after she's been in an area known to have deer ticks, not forgetting spots like the groin, navel, armpits, ears, nape of neck, and scalp. If you find a tick, grasp its head (not the body) with fine-tipped tweezers, steadily pull it straight out, and then clean the area with soap and water. (If you spot one in that tiny nymph stage, you'll probably need a magnifying glass to even find the head.) Don't be alarmed if the mouth parts remain in the skin; once they're detached from the rest of the tick, they can no longer transmit bacteria. Throw the dead tick away, and try not to panic: Most experts say that a tick needs to be attached to the skin for 36 to 48 hours before it transmits Lyme bacteria. Still, it's a good idea to monitor your child for Lyme-disease symptoms.

Warning Signs of Lyme Disease
That circular bull's-eye rash is often the first sign of Lyme infection, but up to 30 percent of kids who get infected are rash-free. Because Lyme bacteria travel quickly through the bloodstream, the rash may not necessarily appear at the site of a tick bite. What's more, a rash can develop up to 30 days after a bite, so parents may not connect it to an earlier tick encounter, or they may mistake it for a spider bite.

With Lyme disease, misdiagnosis can be life-altering. "Untreated, the infection can injure a child's brain, nerves, heart, liver, eyes, muscles, and joints," says Paul Auwaerter, M.D., clinical director of the division of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in Baltimore. Because Julia Schroeder's Lyme disease wasn't treated for four years, the 8-year-old is now among the 25 percent of patients who have what's known as Lyme arthritis, a condition that causes joints to become inflamed and painful. Unfortunately, she has also recently developed tics and headaches. Julia can do gymnastics, swim, and participate in other activities "in short bursts" if she first takes ibuprofen. Most Lyme-induced joint and neurological problems improve with antibiotics if treatment starts early in the course of the illness.

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