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Tick Bites and Lyme Disease Symptoms

What Does a Tick Look Like?

Ticks are very small, parasitic insects that look like spiders, with round, brown bodies and legs. They attach themselves to the skin and feed on blood; the tick's bloated body rests on the victim's skin, with its head burrowed just under it.

Ticks reside in heavily wooded areas or fields, and are most active in the spring and summer months. They can be carried into the home on clothing or on pets and then crawl onto human skin. Not all ticks carry disease, but some do transmit them. The wood tick, or dog tick, can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Colorado tick fever; other ticks, including the deer tick, can transmit Lyme disease. Ticks can also carry viruses that lead to encephalitis. Only a few people who are bitten by ticks become sick, but prompt removal lessens the incidence of tick-borne diseases.

Symptoms of Tick Bites and Lyme Disease

The tick bite itself is not painful but, after a few hours, the bitten victim will notice slight irritation and itching at the bite wound and that the tick still attached to the skin.

Lyme disease will first appear as a ring-shaped rash at the bite wound; there is a red ring with a central zone that gradually becomes paler (resembling a bulls-eye). An itchy, hot rash can occur several days to a few weeks after the tick bite and it can spread out from the bite wound. The rash usually lasts for approximately three weeks, and it can become as big as four to six inches in diameter. There may also be multiple "target" lesions or rashes.

A child with Lyme disease may also have generalized flulike symptoms, such as fever, headache, joint and muscle pains, and lethargy. A rash may or may not develop.

Lyme disease rarely causes problems with the heart and nervous system, but Bell's palsy may develop; this affects the facial nerve and causes paralysis on one side of the face. A child with Bell's palsy will not be able to wrinkle his brow or shut his eye, and his smile will be crooked. The child will need to be treated with a two to three week course of antibiotics, and most children make a full recovery.

How to Remove a Tick

Some ticks carry disease and transmit it through a bite. Prompt removal of the tick in the first 24 hours reduces the risk of disease.

  1. Gather a clean pair of tweezers and a magnifying glass.
  2. Using the tweezers, grasp the tick at a point close to its mouth and pull it out gently. Avoid squeezing the tick's belly, as this may push germ-carrying blood into your baby's body.
  3. If part of the tick remains in the skin, try to remove it as you would a splinter. Do not dig and cause discomfort.
  4. Place the tick in a sealed bag before discarding.
  5. Clean the bite area and apply a doctor-recommended topical first-aid ointment. Wash your hands with soap and water.
  6. Check it daily for signs of infection (redness, swelling, fever).

Always call the doctor if:

  • You can't remove the tick.
  • You are able to remove the tick, but the tick has already been on your child for more than 24 hours.
  • Your child is having difficulty breathing or any type of severe reaction from the bite.
  • You notice that your child's face or smile is lopsided/crooked
  • A rash, a fever, or flulike symptoms develops in the two weeks after the bite. The symptoms may indicate a tick-borne disease and require antibiotics.

How to Prevent Tick Bites

Do not avoid the outdoors because you fear tick bites, but do take proper precautions if you visit a field or a densely wooded area.

  • Always dress your child in a shirt with long sleeves and pants that can be tucked into socks. Light-colored clothing can make it easier to spot crawling ticks. Check the clothing for ticks often.
  • Insect repellents, applied to the skin as well as to clothing, can help prevent tick bites. Depending on your child's age, products that contain less than 10 percent DEET (the active ingredient in most insect repellents) are safe and effective.
  • Once inside your home, remove your child's clothing and check for ticks on the entire body. Ticks are usually found on the scalp, in the armpits, on the skin between the fingers and toes, and in the groin area.
  • Have all family members check their clothing and skin, and be sure to check pets as well.

Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.

All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.