Alice, it’s great that your son enjoys playing outdoors, developing his curiosity about nature, his physical skills, and overall fitness. But it’s also good to take precautions to prevent Lyme Disease. Although Lyme Disease is still fairly rare, it has become more common over the past few decades in the Northeast, North Central and West Coast areas of the United States.
Lyme Disease is an infection caused by a bacteria carried by the deer tick, which is brownish-black and the size of a poppy seed (smaller than the typical dog tick). Children tend to get bitten by the deer ticks when playing in grassy or wooded areas in the late spring, summer and early fall.
It’s good to take precautions to try to prevent Lyme Disease when playing in grassy and wooded areas:
Cover up: Wear a long-sleeved shirt and pants tucked into the socks to keep ticks off the body. Wear a hat to keep ticks off the scalp. Wear sneakers, shoes or boots instead of sandals to keep ticks off the feet.
Wear light-colored clothing: This helps you spot the dark-colored ticks.
Use insect repellent: Products with no more than 10% DEET are considered safe for children.
Play in areas with short grass and cleared trails: Try to stay out of tall grass, piles of leaves and underbrush where the ticks live.
Check for ticks after coming indoors: Check your child from head to toe. Common places for ticks to attach are the scalp, neck, chest, back, underarms, thighs, and groin. If you get the tick off within 24-36 hours, it is far less likely to have transmitted the infection. Remove the tick with fine-tipped tweezers, gripping underneath the tick body as close to the skin as possible and pulling upward with steady, even pressure. After removing the tick, wash the bite site thoroughly with soap and water. Place the tick in a plastic bag and save it in your freezer—if your child gets ill, it can help the doctor make an accurate diagnosis.
If your child develops Lyme Disease, the first symptom you might see is a “bull’s eye” rash that can appear at the site of the tick bite within 3-30 days after getting bitten. The rash has a dark red center surrounded by a lighter red ring, and it may hurt, itch or burn. It can also be accompanied by a flu-like illness with fever, headache, chills, and aching muscles and joints. If left untreated, Lyme Disease can lead to joint and nervous system damage. If you notice possible symptoms of Lyme Disease, contact your doctor immediately. Lyme Disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics—sometimes a short course is effective, and sometimes a longer course is needed.
Continue to encourage your child to play outdoors while taking some basic precautions. For more information about Lyme Disease, visit the Centers for Disease Control web site, www.cdc.gov .
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.