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Protecting Children from Lyme Disease

children and lyme disease safety

Check those toes for ticks!

The highest incidence of Lyme disease cases in the US occurs in children aged 5-14 years and, despite increasing awareness of the infection, protecting children from Lyme disease remains difficult in many areas. In the Northeast, Upper Midwest and on the West Coast of America the ticks carrying Lyme disease bacteria are rapidly colonizing new regions and increasing human exposure to Lyme disease.

Knowing how to best protect children against this potentially devastating disease means understanding a little about how ticks work, how the infection takes hold and how to spot signs of Lyme disease in yourself and your family (including animal companions).

When Ticks Bite

The lifecycle of the North American tick makes them most active between April/May and October and most cases are reported midsummer in June or July. Symptoms of Lyme disease can be easily missed at first as they may look like a summer cold, joint ache or even sunstroke. The familiar Lyme disease rash (the bullseye rash) does not always appear but, where it does, it is sufficient grounds alone for a diagnosis of Lyme disease. It helps to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of Lyme disease in children so as to ensure they get medical attention early when it is usually most successful.

Lyme Disease Prevention for Children

It is also important to make sure that children, themselves, know how to best avoid tick bites and infection with Lyme disease bacteria. Those living in Lyme-endemic areas will likely have some education at school and there may also be community programs available to help raise awareness of the illness. Preventative measures can include:

  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts/tops
  • Wearing long pants and tucking pant legs into socks
  • Wearing a hat when walking through wooded areas
  • Sticking to the center of a path to avoid overhanging foliage
  • Choose light-colored clothing that shows ticks more easily
  • Wear closed footwear; not sandals or flip-flops/thongs
  • Using an appropriate tick-repellent spray

How to do a Tick Check

Following these Lyme disease prevention measures is not, however, foolproof and so parents and children themselves should learn to check for ticks upon returning home. Including companion animals in this tick check routine is also important as dogs and cats may bring ticks into the house on their fur, dislodge the tick and result in a wandering tick inside the property looking for its next blood meal. Tick checks may be best done with a magnifying glass to spot nymphal ticks that are often only marginally bigger than a pinhead. Checking skin folds, particularly behind the knees, is important as ticks tend to hide in such places. Other key areas ticks tend to bite include the belly button, groin, armpits, at the hairline, behind the ears and on the scalp.

Tick Sprays for Children

Using tick sprays on small children is often inadvisable due to concerns over toxicity and so parents should check the label warnings on such product before use. Some acaricides can be applied to clothing rather than to the skin but others will damage clothing if applied in such a way. Ticks are not insects and so many insect-repellants will have little or no preventative effect on them. It is essential to weigh up the benefits of using toxic tick-deterrents against the risk of heavy-handed applications, especially as concerns protecting children from Lyme disease. Repeated applications of a tick spray can itself cause neurotoxic damage, especially in small children.

Avoiding Ticks and Acting Quickly

Key advice remains knowing your level of risk and protecting yourself and your family accordingly. Public health offices will sometimes issue tick-warnings if there is evidence of active blacklegged ticks in the area. As the weather warms up it is important to teach kids tick-safety and Lyme disease prevention as their exposure to ticks will increase as they spend more time outdoors. A daily tick check should become routine in Lyme endemic areas as removing a tick within the first 24 hours of a bite dramatically reduces the risk of bacterial transmission and is an important step in protecting children from Lyme disease.

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