I love the summer, don’t you? Being on the water with my family is one of my favorite activities. We have talked about sun exposure, beach emergencies, boating hazards and swimming safety. But, as summer camps roll around and the kids and dogs go marching through the woods, we need to be on the lookout for ticks. While eve-ryone’s first thought is dreaded Lyme disease with a tick bite, luckily, down here in lower Alabama, Lyme disease is very rare! However, tick bites can lead to local infection and sometimes rare, but serious tick borne illnesses. Today we will talk about prevention, identifica-tion, removal, and what to look for if the bite becomes serious.
So as with most things in pediatrics, prevention is key. If you have to go into a heavily wooded or brushy area and it’s in the summer, be on the lookout! First, wear light-colored clothing to easily see if you have ticks crawling on your clothes and be sure to not only wear pants, but tuck them into your socks to reduce exposure. Be sure to apply tick repellents to your skin (those that contain DEET) and clothes (those that contain permethrin). Finally, be sure to check yourself, your children, and your pets head-to-toe for any ticks after coming inside. Tick bites don’t hurt or itch, so they can be easily missed. Two areas that ticks like to hide are in clothing and in a child’s hair, so be sure to give those areas extra care.
Oh my gawsh! Is that a tick? So you listened to my advice and checked your kids and spotted a tick. To start, there are two main types of ticks. Deer ticks that can range from the size of a pinhead to an apple seed, and wood ticks that are bigger, like a watermelon seed. Now, before you start grabbing the tick and squeezing it with your fingers, we need to do a few things. First, take a deep breath. You need to be calm so your child will be calm. First try using a credit card and gently scraping the tick—if it is a recent bite, it sometimes will scrape right off! If not, use tweezers or long fingernails to grasp the tick near the head and GENTLY pull back with constant pressure. Be sure to not twist or crush the bug to reduce the chance of tearing it in half. Sometimes, a thread or needle can be inserted under the jaws and gently lifted to remove the bug. If you do leave the head, it’s OK! Clean the area with soap and water and use a sterile needle to remove the biggest portion. If some is left, leave it alone! The body will work it out like a splinter. And, since we also aim to dispel myths and rumors around here, ticks will not come off with application of Vaseline, nail polish, rubbing alcohol or hot needles! After removing the tick, clean the area with soap and water and apply triple antibiotic ointment for a few days to prevent infection.
OK, so does my child have Lyme disease?! I don’t think so. A tick has to be attached to the skin for 48 hours before transmission of the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, the bug that can cause Lyme disease.
So prompt removal usually is enough. In fact, even in areas where Lyme disease is rampant (mainly the Northeast), the transmission rate is only 1.4%! I have had several people ask me if their child needed blood work to test for illnesses and even antibiotics for treatment. The answer is no! Basically you have to watch for signs and symptoms of the tick-borne illnesses including rashes (can be a large red lesion around the site of the bite or splotchy red marks on the wrists and ankles), fever, fatigue, headache, and muscle aches. The hard part is, these symptoms can present anywhere from three to thirty days after a bite! If you see any of these, then talk to your child’s physician immediately about testing/ treatment and to answer questions about these illnesses!