Add Lyme disease to the ever-growing list of illnesses you need to be familiar with to keep your family healthy.
1. Know where and when it occurs. The disease is most commonly seen in rural areas of the Northeast from Virginia to Maine, northern California, and the northern Midwest but can occur almost anywhere in the US and Canada. About 80% of cases occur in May through July, but can occur in any season except winter. Your local health department can tell you if you live in an area where Lyme disease precautions are indicated.
2. The cause are bacteria, but ticks are the culprits. These bacteria inhabit animals, most commonly deer and mice. Ticks transmit the bacteria from animals to humans. Only some animals and some ticks are infected. Unlike most biting insects, these ticks imbed themselves into a person’s skin and remain there. It takes ticks at least 36 hours to inject the Lyme-causing bacteria into the skin, giving you time to prevent the disease. Lyme disease is never transmitted from person to person.
3. Proper dress helps minimize tick bites. Light-colored apparel makes it easier to spot ticks crawling on clothing. Long sleeve shirts and long pants tucked into socks help keep ticks away. (Lightweight, summer-friendly clothing helps children stay comfortable outdoors in warm weather while being covered up.)
4. Use insect repellents on exposed skin. For children, use repellents containing no more than 20 to 30% DEET. Read instructions. DEET is considered safe for infants aged two months and older. Know how long DEET is effective, especially with excessive perspiration and when used simultaneously with a sunscreen. Wash off when no longer needed.
5. Apply permethrin 0.5% to clothing. While DEET can be used on clothing, it wears off in a matter of hours. Permethrin is a safe substance that kills ticks on contact and remains on clothing for extended periods, even after laundering. Read instructions. Apply especially to pants, socks, and shoes; most ticks get onto clothing by people brushing against high grass where insects are present. Permethrin can also be used on tents and some camping gear. Do not use permethrin directly on skin. Clothing pre-treated with permethrin is available on the web and from camping supply stores.
6. Check children for ticks. Have them bathe or shower soon after coming indoors. This helps wash away ticks on the skin not yet imbedded. Check for ticks under arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in the hair. Ticks can crawl around on the body.
7. Removing ticks. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick at the surface of the skin. Pull straight, in a continuous motion. Don’t twist – this can cause the mouth parts to break off and stay in the skin. Clean the bite site and wash your hands with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. Do not use hot matches, nail polish, or petroleum jelly on the tick; these are not effective. Take your child to a medical facility if part of the tick remains in the skin.
8. Experts can identify ticks. Only certain kinds of ticks transmit Lyme disease bacteria. Ideally, place the tick in a small, sealable, transparent envelope or jar and take it to a medical facility. If they cannot identify it, they can send it to a laboratory for testing. Ticks can also be tested for the causative bacteria. Short courses of commonly used antibiotics prevent Lyme disease.
9. The symptoms of Lyme disease. Many children (and adults) who contract Lyme disease don’t recall being bitten; the ticks are small, varying in size from pinhead to apple seed, and are easily missed. Lyme disease can still be effectively treated when symptoms appear. Symptoms include a “bull’s eye” rash, fatigue, chills, fever, headaches, and muscle and joint pain. The rash appears 3 to 14 days after the bite and at the site of the bite. It is red in color, and grows larger with the center clearing, and may be several inches in diameter. In dark-skinned people it may look like a bruise.
10. Miscellaneous. If untreated, Lyme disease can damage joints, the heart and nervous system. In tick-infested areas, wash and dry clothing at a high temperature. Avoid areas preferred by ticks: wooded and bushy areas with high grass and a lot of leaf litter. An informative, illustrated 12-page booklet on Lyme disease is available at http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/resources/brochure/lymediseasebrochure.pdf