Your child comes in from a day outdoors and shows you a funny spot on his arm. You take a close look and become panic-stricken: it’s a tick – the size of a small lady bug. Before you rush your child off to your pediatrician or the nearest emergency room, take a deep breath and grab a pair of tweezers. Grab the tick and pull very slowly and gently and the tick will come off. Don’t worry if the mouth pincers or head stays in your child – those parts are not infectious. Put the tick in a baggie, call your pediatrician, and read on. You have more time than you think – even if this tick ends up being a Deer tick.
Regardless of what this tick ends up being identified as, all of us worry about our kids getting Lyme Disease. And, since Massachusetts is a high risk area for Lyme Disease carrying ticks, we do need to be vigilant but what we don’t need to do is panic and put everyone who has a tick bite on antibiotics.
Lyme Disease is caused by a bacteria (Burrelia burgdorferi for those of you that like big technical names) that live in Deer ticks innocently but can be passed along to humans when the Deer tick attaches to our skin and has a little snack. Simple attachment won’t pass along the bacteria – the tick actually has to “feed”. You’ll know if a tick has fed – it will look very engorged like a small balloon. Luckily, a tick has to be on a person for at least 36-48 hours for the actual bite to occur. And, not all Deer ticks carry the bacteria.
Deer ticks start of their lives very, very small – the size of a pin. Very, very young ticks, called larvae, pick up B. burgdorferi when they bite infected mice. These larvae mature into juveniles called nymphs that are no bigger than a small freckle or poppy seed. Turn out that the nymphs are the ticks that most commonly bite people and pass along Lyme Disease if they happen to be carrying it. Once a tick becomes an adult, they are very easy to see, usually the size of a lady bug, and are not all that interested in biting us humans.
So, the ticks to worry about and remove are also the hard to see one and keeping an eye out for certain symptoms is what helps identify early Lyme Disease more often than not. The big symptoms to watch for are a circular rash that slowly expands, flu-like symptoms, and joint complaints, especially swelling and pain. Since many other infections have symptoms similar to Lyme Disease and since not every Deer Tick carries B. burgdorferi, antibiotics are reserved until blood testing confirms the diagnosis.
In the end, the best way to not get Lyme Disease is prevention:
• Spray everyone with insect repellent with DEET: 10-15% for kids and 30-35% for adults. Don’t forget to reapply every few hours, especially after swimming or sports
• Wear protective clothing when walking in woody and grassy areas – including long sleeves and pants and tucking pants into sock
• Check your entire family for ticks daily and removing ticks if found
• Call your doctor if any of the above symptoms occur in your kids so testing for Lyme Disease can be arranged.
So, if your child gets at tick bite, remove the tick as soon and try not to worry too much. Your child's body will tell you if Lyme is brewing.