Warm weather means being outdoors: Camping, hiking, and picnics by the lake. So, tick-tock… it’s time, once again, to start searching your kids for ticks.
Named for the towns where it was first identified – Lyme and Old Lyme, Connecticut – Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in the United States. It is caused by bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi in America) that live on mice and deer and is subsequently transmitted by the black-legged or deer ticks that feed on these animals.
Because of their proximity to the ground, children are unfortunately more susceptible to attracting ticks, and the dangers of Lyme disease in children are many-fold. Because ticks are difficult to see – adult ticks are no bigger than a sesame seed, while the most common culprit, nymph ticks, are less than 2 mm in length – bites often go unnoticed. Many people who contract the disease, in fact, do not recall being bitten. This, paired with a wide-ranging set of symptoms that imitate other illnesses, can often lead to misdiagnosis, or no diagnosis whatsoever.
Lyme disease can affect a person’s nervous system, joints, skin, and heart, and typically occurs in three distinct stages.
1st Stage – Early Localized Lyme Disease
Seven to 14 days after being bitten by an infected tick, a circular, bullseye-like rash may appear anywhere on the body. The rash is typically red at center, surrounded immediately by clear skin, and then ringed with an expanding rash. The rash is generally flat and painless, but can be itchy and irritating.
It is possible, however, that a rash may not show up at all.
This bullseye rash can be accompanied by flu-like symptoms – achiness, fatigue, nausea, fever, and chills – which may go away on their own, or may come and go.
2nd stage – Early Disseminated Lyme Disease
Undiagnosed and untreated, Lyme disease can begin to spread to other parts of the body, causing heart issues, facial paralysis, spinal problems, and meningitis.
Within weeks to months of infection, the following issues might develop:
- Neurological symptoms
- Heart problems
- Skin disorders
- Drooping features/loss of muscle tone (Bell’s Palsy)
- Eye problems
- Severe fatigue
- Problems with coordination
- Additional rashes may appear
3rd stage – Disseminated Lyme Disease
If the early stages of Lyme disease are left untreated, late stage symptoms can appear weeks or even years after bite. In children, these are most often arthritis related, with tenderness and swelling in joints and knees. Without intervention, however, Lyme disease becomes chronic and can ultimately cause severe damage to the joints, nerves, and brain.
In addition to its vague, wide-ranging symptoms, the irritability and disruptions to day-to-day life that young sufferers endure may lead parents to mistake Lyme disease in children as a particularly difficult growing stage. Meanwhile, the confusion and uncharacteristic behavior that results can have a detrimental effect on school and home life.
If you believe your child may be demonstrating signs of Lyme disease, particularly if he or she has recently visited wooded areas, see a pediatric provider ASAP. When diagnosed early and treated with a course of antibiotics, the outcome is generally promising.
Here Are 5 Preventative Measures to Take This Summer:
- Be cognizant of your surroundings. Ticks thrive in tall grass, shrubs, low branches, and moist, shaded spots in forests and wooded areas, as well as old stone walls (where mice may live).
- When in wooded areas, wear boots; light-colored, long-sleeved garments; and tuck your pant legs into your boots or shoes. Long hair should be tucked inside of a hat.
- Use insect repellant containing DEET – but be sure to apply only to clothing, never to bare skin.
- Shower as soon as possible after coming indoors.
- Regularly check your children for ticks. They will often be found behind the ear, at the hairline, near the belly button, neck, armpits, groin, scalp, or the parts of the body that bend. The infecting bacteria requires 24-48 hours after a bite, so do not panic if a tick is located, but carefully remove it and save it for identification purposes.
Lyme disease in children cannot be passed from person-to-person, but it can be contracted multiple times, even after being treated with antibiotics. At KinderMender, our doctors are well-versed in the signs and symptoms of this preventable disease. If you have concerns, visit one of our three Maryland locations today.