Now that the warm weather is back, are you thinking about Lyme Disease?
All parents should keep it in mind – but NOT panic about it! As with many things, knowing the facts eliminates a lot of the worry generated by all the “hype” out there!
Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection caused by an organism, called Borrelia burgdorferi that is carried in the saliva of Deer Ticks. If there are deer or mice around (we live in New England – deer are everywhere), those ticks can fall off the deer or be brushed off by plants in the gardens or woods as the deer forage. When humans are outside, especially in or near wooded areas, the ticks are only too happy to crawl on! Once they hitch a ride on you, they look for a place on your body for a good meal (a place to bite). While the tick is still crawling around, it poses NO danger and cannot transmit disease. After finding a suitable spot, the tick will bite and begin (however disgusting) its blood meal. As the tick fills up (gets engorged), it regurgitates (spits up back into the person – now that’s really disgusting!). Remember, the bacteria that cause Lyme Disease are in the saliva of the tick, so this is the time when the tick can transmit disease, not before. It takes a long time, some infectious disease experts feel 24 hours, before the tick is “full enough” to regurgitate. A tick that is NOT engorged has a very small chance of giving anyone Lyme Disease.
So how do you protect yourselves and your kids?
Well, you can’t reasonably stay indoors all spring, summer and fall!!!! If you will be hiking or camping in the woods, the best bet is long, lightweight, pants tucked into your socks and long sleeves (good luck getting the kids to do that – they want shorts and T-shirts!) Next option, a good insect repellant, put on after the sunscreen. The combo sunscreen/insect repellants don’t work as well. No matter what your kids have been doing outside, even if it’s just in your yard, the pool or the beach, do a tick check EVERY night. Especially look in crevices (groin, armpits) and the hairline. You might want to use a magnifier or reading glasses to be sure.
Deer Ticks – different stages:
If you find a tick (it can look like a freckle with legs), grab it with a pair of tweezers and pull straight back – do not twist it, or use Vaseline or a hot match!!
Wash the area with soap and water and put on a little antibacterial ointment. If you wish, you may take the tick to the Health Dept to be tested to see if it carries Lyme. Testing the tick is not necessary though. First of all, the majority of deer ticks in our area do carry Lyme. Children are NOT treated based on the results of tick testing – children are treated when THEY have the disease, not the tick! Preventative treatment, sometimes used in adults, has not been shown to be beneficial in children.
So go outside – have fun! Just use common sense precautions.