Evaluate Your Child's Lyme Disease Risk
In warm weather, the threat of Lyme disease might make you think that your kids would be safer in your living room than in the great outdoors.
Though a child's risk of getting Lyme disease after being bitten by a tick is only about 1%-3%, it's important to consider the factors that affect Lyme disease risk.
It's true that Lyme disease is the leading tick-borne disease in the United States, with 20,000 to 30,000 cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year. Most cases of Lyme disease occur in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and Pacific coast areas of the United States.
Lyme disease incidence has been reported in other states (and even in Asia, Europe, and Canada), but those hardest hit are:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
Most Lyme disease cases occur between April and October, particularly in June and July.
Outdoor Activities and Pets
Besides living in one of these areas, other factors that might increase a child's tick risk include:
- spending a lot of time outdoors in tall grass, brush, shrubs, or wooded areas
- having pets that may carry ticks indoors
- participating in activities such as landscaping, hiking, camping, fishing, or hunting in tick-infested areas
So your teen got a job as a landscaper this summer and you're planning a family camping trip — does that mean Lyme disease is in your family's future? No, but it does mean that you should take some precautions to protect your family — such as using insect repellent and wearing light-colored clothing when outdoors to make spotting ticks easier — and know how to remove a tick, just in case.
If you find a tick:
- Call your doctor, who may want you to save the tick after removal for identification as the type that may carry Lyme disease or another type of illness. You can put the tick in a sealed container to preserve it.
- Use tweezers to grasp the tick firmly at its head or mouth, next to the skin.
- Pull firmly and steadily on the tick until it lets go of the skin. If part of the tick stays in the skin, don't worry, it will eventually come out — although you should call your doctor if you notice any irritation in the area or symptoms of Lyme disease.
- Swab the bite site with alcohol.
One note of caution: Don't use petroleum jelly or a lit match to kill a tick — they're not effective. These methods won't get the tick off your skin and might just cause the insect to burrow deeper and release more saliva (which increases the chances of disease transmission).
It's important to remove the tick as soon as possible. The longer the tick is attached, the greater the chance that Lyme disease will be transmitted. Usually, bacteria from a tick bite will enter the bloodstream only if the tick stays attached to the skin for 24-48 hours or longer. If the tick is removed within 1-2 days, it is less likely to have transmitted Lyme disease.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: July 2013
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