Tick Bites: Symptoms and Signs of Lyme Disease
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 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.