Just a few years ago the incidence of Lyme disease was relatively low in Ohio. But today, it’s a very different story according to Blaise Congeni, MD, director of pediatric infectious disease at Akron Children’s Hospital.
“I’m getting calls literally every day related to Lyme disease,” said Dr. Congeni.
The statistics are startling: in 2010, the Ohio Department of Health reported that the incidence of Lyme disease was at 44 cases, by 2016 that number had risen to 160. The dramatic jump coincides with the increase in tick populations in Ohio, especially blacklegged ticks, which carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
While not all blacklegged ticks carry the bacteria, it’s important for parents to teach children how to prevent bites and what to do if they suspect their kids have been bitten.
Know the signs
“The first symptom of a tick bite is a rash on the skin,” said Dr. Congeni. The rash has a characteristic bull’s-eye target shape that often gets larger. This rash can appear several days after the initial bite. Although a rash is common with tick bites, not every child who develops Lyme disease will have one.
For some children, the rash may go away on its own without treatment. In others, the rash may grow larger and accompany flu-like symptoms including achiness, fever and general discomfort.
The disease may then go on to affect other body systems such as the nervous system, causing conditions like meningitis; and the muscular-skeleton system, causing arthritis.
Generally, antibiotics are used to treat Lyme disease in children and are highly effective, especially when diagnosed early.
Preventing tick bites
Dr. Congeni gives these suggestions for helping kids avoid bites:
- Have children wear insect repellant containing DEET
- Tuck pants into socks and limit skin exposure whenever possible
- Wear light-colored clothing so it’s easier to spot ticks (they’re dark brown)
- Be especially cautious about bites when going out at dusk or in wooded areas
- Inspect kids’ skin for tick bites when they come in from playing outside
If you do find a tick on your child’s skin, you can remove it yourself using a pair of tweezers, or contact your pediatrician to do it for you. Make sure to remove the tick in its entirety to prevent further infection.
Keep in mind that unlike other bug bites, ticks don’t hurt. If you have any concerns about tick bites or unusual rashes on your children, contact their pediatrician right away.