Summertime means tick season and this year is predicted to be a bad one! It’s important to remember that most tick bites are harmless and rarely spread disease. Nonetheless, it can still be anxiety provoking to see a tick on your child’s skin. To help keep your children healthy this summer, your pediatricians at Rockford Pediatrics have answered some common tick questions.
How do I prevent tick bites?
If your children are going to be playing or hiking in a tick-infested area (usually shaded, moist areas) have them try to stay on cleared trails when possible and avoid brushing against overhanging branches and tall grass. Make sure your children wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants and have them tuck their pants into their socks to avoid exposing skin. They should wear enclosed shoes or boots, not sandals and they should also wear hats and pull back long hair to avoid getting tick bites on their scalp. Insect repellents can also be applied to their skin or clothing, especially their socks and shoes. After coming back indoors, check your children for ticks, especially the scalp, behind the ears, around the neck and under their arms.
What type of insect repellant should I use?
If you are applying the insect repellant to clothing or other outdoor items like sleeping bags or tents, then a permethrin containing repellant works best. Permethrin should not be applied directly to skin. If you will be applying the repellant to skin, then use one with 10%-30% DEET for children and adolescents. You should not use this on infants and you should wash it off with soap and water after your children are back indoors.
My child has a tick on their body. How do I remove it?
If your child has a tick on him follow these steps for removal.
- Use tweezers to grasp the tick firmly at its head or mouth next to the skin. Grab as much of the tick as possible.
- Pull firmly and steadily until the tick lets go of the skin. Do not twist or rock it from side to side. If part of the tick remains in the skin, leave it there. It will eventually come out on its own.
- Don’t have tweezers? Try soaking a cotton ball in liquid soap and cover the tick with it for 30 seconds. The tick will usually be stuck to the cotton ball when you lift it off.
- Release the tick into a zip locked bag in case you need to have it identified.
- Wash your hands and the bite with soap and water.
- Swab the site with rubbing alcohol and then apply a topical antibiotic to the bite site.
* Never use petroleum jelly, rubbing alcohol or a hot match to kill and remove a tick, because these methods don't get the tick off the skin, and can cause it to burrow deeper and release more saliva (which can increase the possibility of disease transmission).
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme Disease is a bacterial illness transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks (deer tick). The deer tick is tiny, no larger than a pencil point. Other ticks are larger and easier to find on the skin. Deer ticks live in forests or grassy areas typically near a body of water. For disease transmission to occur, the tick typically needs to be feeding for more than 48 hours. Typical symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic bull’s-eye rash, which usually occurs within 4 weeks of the tick bite. If left untreated, the infection can spread to the joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks, in conjunction with positive laboratory testing. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics, even those in the later stages of disease.
Below is a map that shows the reported cases of Lyme Disease, which is most commonly seen in the northeast United States, Wisconsin and Minnesota and less commonly seen in Michigan.
When should I call my pediatrician?
- If the tick may have been on the skin more than 24 hours.
- Part of the tick remains in the skin after the attempted removal.
- If the bite site starts to look infected.
- Any rash develops either around the tick bite or on other parts of the body (especially a red-ringed bull's-eye rash or red dots on wrists and ankles).
- Symptoms like fever, headache, stiff neck, tiredness or muscle/joint pains develop over the next 2-4 weeks.