Summer’s here, with sunshine and warm temperatures beckoning us to spend time outside. But summer also means that Lyme disease-carrying ticks are on the move, looking for animals and people to attach to and possibly infect. To help us all enjoy the great outdoors safely, we at Westchester Health offer the following tips for avoiding tick bites, Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases.
Ticks live in grassy, brushy or wooded areas and on animals, including deer, mice, chipmunks, raccoons and many others. If you spend time outside, you will probably come into contact with ticks, says the CDC. Many people get tick bites in their own yard or neighborhood.
Ticks are most active whenever the temperature is above 40 F degrees, which means that you and your family need to be extra vigilant from April to October, approximately, depending on where you live. To learn which type of ticks are most common in your area, click here.
Of the many tick species found throughout the world, only a few bite and transmit diseases to people, according to the CDC. Of the ticks that do bite people, different species of ticks transmit different diseases. To learn more, click here.
How to avoid contracting Lyme disease
To avoid being bitten by a tick, follow these 7 simple guidelines:
1. Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
2. Wear lightweight long sleeves and/or pants when hiking or walking in wooded areas. Keep pants tucked into socks.
3. Spray clothing with insect repellent containing 10-30% DEET. DO NOT spray insect repellent directly on children’s skin. Spray skin with Skintastic or Skin-So-Soft, but NOT on an infant less than 6 months of age.
4. Perform daily tick checks, preferably before or after bathing. Make sure to check under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and on the hairline and scalp.
5. Remove ticks quickly and correctly (see below).
6. Watch for fever or the classic red “bullseye” rash.
7. Use flea/tick collars on pets.
8. Discourage deer (main food source of adult ticks) by removing plants around your house that attract them and by installing fencing to keep them off your property.
Symptoms of Lyme disease to watch out for
There are 3 stages of Lyme disease, each with a different set of symptoms.
Fortunately, 90% of children infected with Lyme disease exhibit the classic red “bullseye” rash that is typical of this early stage, developing within 7-14 days after a tick bite. This rash is usually flat, not painful, is at least 5 cm in diameter and continues to expand over days, possibly weeks. It may also be accompanied by fever, headache, dizziness, body aches and fatigue. Testing for Lyme infection at this stage is not helpful because results are often negative and an accurate diagnosis can actually be made visually. Early stage Lyme disease is easily treated with 14-21 days of oral antibiotics, and 90% of patients have complete resolution of symptoms.
Early disseminated stage
The early disseminated stage of Lyme disease occurs 3-5 weeks after the initial bite and can cause multiple red bullseye rashes, facial nerve palsies (Bell’s palsy), meningitis and carditis.
Late stage Lyme disease causes arthritis with redness, pain and swelling of a joint, as well as more significant cardiac and neurologic symptoms. Depending upon the individual case, early disseminated Lyme disease and late stage Lyme disease can both be treated with 21-28 days of oral or IV antibiotics.
The correct way to remove a tick
1. Use fine-tipped tweezers, grabbing as close to the skin as possible (do NOT use folklore remedies like petroleum jelly, a lit match or nail polish to remove a tick).
2. Pull upwards (away from the person’s skin) with steady, even pressure until the tick releases. If parts of the tick are not fully removed, you can try to remove these parts with clean tweezers. If you cannot remove them easily, leave them alone and allow the skin to heal. The body will expel any remnants on its own, and further manipulation can increase the risk of secondary skin infection.
3. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area with rubbing alcohol or warm soap and water.
Video on how to remove a tick
To learn how to safely remove a tick, we recommend this video from Tick Encounter/The University of Rhode Island.
Read our pediatric blogs
We’ve written several informative blogs about children’s illnesses and conditions as well as preventative care, which you can read here.
If you think your child has been bitten by a tick, please come see us.
If you suspect, or know for sure, that your child has sustained a tick bite, please call (914) 232-1919 to make an appointment to see one of our Westchester Health pediatricians. We’ll examine your child, probably perform some tests, discuss the options, and together with you and your child, decide what treatment might be needed going forward. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.
By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, Lead Pediatric Physician with Westchester Health, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners