May; the end of spring, the introduction to our hot, humid summer months in SC. And because it’s that time of year again where the critters come out to wreak havoc, it’s also National Lyme Disease Awareness Month.
According to the CDC, Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne (transmitted by blood-feeding anthropods like ticks) disease in the United States. In most cases, it is transmitted to humans by black-legged ticks.
When my oldest son was 13 years old, he was diagnosed with Lyme disease. At the time, I knew very little about it. However, from living in the south my whole life, I was familiar with the fact that it’s typically transmitted by a tick and can be very dangerous (it is not transmitted from person to person).
My son was extremely ill and spent some grueling hours in the hospital before finally being released to go home with some strong antibiotics. Thankfully, he made a full recovery and hasn’t had any long-term impacts. However, that’s not the case for everyone, so this disease must be caught as soon as possible.
Some common signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for with Lyme disease include headache, fatigue, fever, and a rash that looks much like a target called an erythema migran (Lyme disease does not always present with the rash but is common in 70-80% of infected persons). If left untreated for too long, symptoms can include severe muscle and joint pain with swelling, swollen lymph nodes, facial palsy, severe headaches and stiff neck, heart palpitations, brain and spinal cord inflammation, and nerve pain, amongst other symptoms.
Although Lyme disease is most common in the northeastern parts of the United States, it is not limited to that region and has spread across the country for many years. It is not new to SC, and there is undoubtedly no shortage of ticks in the state either; they are everywhere (your yard and the woods)!
We can’t prevent everything bad from happening to our kids, but we can take steps to reduce the chances of them getting Lyme disease, and other tick spread organisms.
How can I prevent the risk of Lyme disease for my child?
The best prevention for Lyme disease is to limit exposure to tick bites. No, you don’t need to keep your kids indoors all summer. There are some measures you can put into place that allow them to enjoy their sunny break still.
Spray the kids down with some Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents.
The EPA provides a search tool to help you determine the best product for your kids.
Treat their clothing.
If you have kids who you know will be playing in the woods, consider treating their clothing with products containing .5% permethrin. Or send them out to play in clothing that is already permethrin-treated.
Treat your dogs for ticks.
If you have dogs that live in the house with you and go outside regularly, make sure you have them regularly treated with suitable tick preventative products, as they can bring ticks into your home. Talk to your veterinarian first to ensure you get the right product for your specific pet.
Tick prevention in your yard.
You can also use acaricides (tick pesticides) to treat your yard and help provide a safe zone for your children to play. In addition, there are many landscaping tactics that you can use within your yard to reduce the risk of tick populations, such as keeping the lawn mowed and leaves raked and placing barriers around your children’s play equipment.
Always perform a tick check after being outdoors.
Check your kid’s clothing, examine any bags or other belongings they had with them outside, and perform a full-body check – scalp especially (hats help to deter ticks from attaching to the scalp, which I have always found is the most challenging place to find them).
What to do if you find a tick on your child
If you do find a tick on yourself or your child, you need to remove it as soon as possible.
Typically tweezers will work best. You must grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull straight up without twisting or turning. You do not want any parts of the tick’s mouth or head to remain in the skin as you will then have to dig that out as well.
If you are concerned that you can’t remove the tick on your own, you can take your child to the emergency room, and they will remove it for you. I have done this myself, and there is no shame in my game regarding protecting my kids!
As with any other break in the skin, make sure you clean it thoroughly after removal.
Do not crush the tick with your fingers; instead, dispose of it by flushing it down the toilet, putting it in a sealed bag, etc. See your pediatrician if your child begins to develop any of the symptoms listed above over the next few days or weeks, and make sure you tell them about the recent tick bite.