June 14, 2012

Dr. Mom: Be on the watch for ticks

I recently saw a young boy in the clinic coming in for a follow-up on a tick bite.

I recently saw a young boy in the clinic coming in for a follow-up on a tick bite.

His mom had done everything right. He had been out for a long bike ride the day before in a heavily wooded area. Once he returned home, he took a shower and noticed a tick on his leg.

His mom immediately removed it with tweezers and brought him in for a quick check.

What we worry about most here in Northern California is the potential for deer ticks to transmit the bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) that causes Lyme disease. And, while this is rare, it's extremely important for parents to know what to do in case they find a tick on their child.

As with most things, prevention is key.

With children headed out for summer camps, hiking in wooded areas and spending some much-needed time outdoors, it's important for parents to be aware of tick- prevention strategies.

Start by knowing that deer ticks prefer wooded areas that are moist, shady, have tall grass or low-lying shrubs. They can be in backyards, schoolyards, parks and campsites.

Dress your child in light- colored and long clothing if possible. Tuck their pant legs into their socks and use insect repellant containing at least 20 percent DEET (but no more than 30 percent) to exposed areas of skin. You can even spray their clothing, but avoid their eyes and mouth.

Sprays containing permethrin may also be used for clothing and other gear but not directly on the skin.

Once your child returns home, have him take a bath or shower and then do a careful tick inspection. Ticks are often not felt and they do not hurt when they bite, so checking your child's body is very important.

These ticks can also be extremely tiny and hard to see, so be extra-meticulous after a long day outdoors.

If you notice a tick on your child, get tweezers and gently pull the tick straight out. Do not wiggle or twist it. Also, avoid using Vaseline or a hot match to smother the tick or get it to release.

These old folklore remedies are not advised since they can cause the tick to burrow deeper into the skin.

Once the tick is removed, wash the area with soap and water. Make a note of where the tick bite occurred in case a rash appears and you need to tell the doctor.

It takes about 36 hours for an infected tick to transmit its bacteria to a child. So doing these daily tick checks is a great and important preventive technique against Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is shown by a ringlike rash called erythemamigrans. It occurs at the site of the tick bite in about 70 percent to 80 percent of infected children and will pop up about three to 30 days after an infected tick bites your child.

This rash looks just like a bull's eye, and if detected and diagnosed promptly, antibiotics can be administered to prevent progression and to cure Lyme disease in most people. Up to 20 percent may have persistent symptoms.

Besides the rash, other symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, fatigue, spreading of the rash, headaches, joint pain (usually the knee), central nervous system symptoms and heart problems.

So, while contracting Lyme disease is rare even if bitten by an infected deer tick, prevention is paramount by performing daily tick checks and knowing the proper way to remove a tick.

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