How to keep kids safe from Lyme disease

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Tick season is upon us again. Here’s what to do if you find a tick on your child and whether to you should test for Lyme? 

We talked with two local physicians to find out how to make sure your family stays healthy this summer. Here is what they had to say.

What should you do if you find a tick on your child?

If you find a tick, take it off as quickly as possible by giving it a steady tug with a pair of tweezers, says Dr. Susan Besser, a specialist with Anne Arundel Medical Group River Family Physicians in Easton. The sooner the tick is removed the better. If the tick is found within 40 hours and is not yet engorged with blood, the risk of contracting Lyme is less likely, she says. It is not necessary to save the tick but check regularly for the telltale rash.

“There’s no need to do a prophylactic antibiotic treatment, but watch the kids,” Besser says. “The characteristic rash is what you look for with Lyme disease.”

It may take seven to 10 days for the rash to appear, and it may not look like a classic target but will always be round or oval and a couple of inches in diameter, according to Dr. John Aucott, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and director of the Johns Hopkins Lyme Disease Research Center.

What symptoms should alert parents that their child may have Lyme even if they have not found a tick?

An unexplained summer flu-like illness with achy joints, fatigue and fever (but not cold symptoms or vomiting) could indicate Lyme, Aucott says. If a child has these symptoms, check everywhere for a rash, including behind the knees, scalp and groin area, he says. The rash can last for weeks without treatment. It is possible to have Lyme without a rash, but 80 percent report a rash, he says.

Should a test for Lyme be administered?

The test is not instantaneous because is based on antibodies being in the system, Besser says, which may take up to 10 to 14 days after exposure. She prefers to treat the symptoms, she explains.

“I’m a clinician. I look toward the patient history and what the patient looks like, and I treat the patient,” she says. “If I’m concerned about Lyme disease, I might go ahead and treat them if the symptoms are pretty classic.”

While Aucott recommends the test, he says the symptoms should be considered if there is a negative result.

“If it’s June and it’s an unexplained flu-like illness, some doctors may choose to treat,” he says. “If they have a rash, you don’t need a test. If you don’t have a rash, you have to consider other tick born illnesses.”

What else can parents do?

“Prevention, prevention, prevention!” Besser says, and Aucott agrees.30051927 10156376324357990 5007044199151172066 o

Especially during the high-risk period in June and July—when the small nymph ticks come out to feed (they are the size of a poppy seed)—kids should play on well-groomed grass and not climb through the brush in the woods, Aucott says. If they do go into the woods, they should wear long pants and long sleeves and older children should have pyrethrin applied to the clothing, he says. Parents should also check for ticks every day. Besser also warns that pets should be treated for ticks so they don’t carry deer ticks into the house.

For more tips on preventing tick bites and lyme disease, visit this handy page by the National Capital Lyme Disease Association

—Betsy Stein

Updated 5/19/2020

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