Lyme Disease on the Rise: Here's How to Protect Your Kids
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted through ticks found in woody and grassy areas. The disease is common in children, the elderly, and people who spend a lot of time outdoors. Its symptoms mimic various diseases – patients are often misdiagnosed with illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and various psychiatric illnesses, delaying the proper treatment.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year. This summer, that number could rise significantly.
Why the Increase?
According to ecologists Rick Ostfeld and Felicia Keesing on a recent NPR interview, we can blame the expanding white-footed mice population. When there are more mice, there are more ticks. Mice and ticks co-exist rather well. An individual mouse can have up to 100 ticks covering its ears and face. Mice infect up to 95 percent of the ticks that feed on them – blame the mice for infecting the majority of ticks carrying Lyme in the Northeast.
Dr. Nancy Troyano, Ph.D., a board-certified entomologist and Director of Technical Education and Training for Rentokil Steritech, Western Exterminator, Presto-X, and Ehrlich Pest Control, notes two other factors – one, the expanding geographic range of the tick due to warming temps and land development. “The ticks are living in closer proximity to humans and other hosts, thus leading to an increased chance of encountering a tick,” says Dr. Troyano. Two, our weather hasn’t had many extremes in temperatures this past year. “We have had mild winters with a few extremes and have not had many deep freezes, which would typically control tick populations.”
But I Don’t Live Near the Woods
Though typical habitats for ticks include woodland areas, they are also found in other areas. “They are also found in grassy fields or in areas with or surrounded by tall grasses and other vegetation,” says Dr. Troyano. Basically, the Northeast and Upper Midwest regions are the highest risk area, according to Dr. Troyano. But there have also been small pockets of Lyme on the West Coast.
What About My Backyard?
It’s important to be proactive and limit the attractiveness of your yard to hosts. Dr. Troyano suggests taking these steps to prevent tick encounters:
- Keep lawns mowed short
- Keep vegetation trimmed
- If possible, move play equipment away from the edges of the yard (it’s harder to mow and keep grass and vegetation under control)
- Keep trash lids on to prevent hosts from entering
- Don’t keep pet food out overnight
- Contact a pest management professional to treat your yard
Protect Your Family
If you’re headed out for a hike in a wooded area or another habitat typical to ticks, Dr. Troyano suggests these measures:
- Wear long pants and tuck pant legs into socks or boots to prevent ticks from climbing up the insides of pant legs
- Wear light-colored clothing to easily spot ticks crawling on you
- Wear insect repellents with an EPA-registered active ingredient
- Walk on the center of the trails and avoid walking through tall grasses and bushes
- Conduct a full body check for ticks and bathe/shower within 2 hours of your return
- Lymedisease.org suggests drying clothes in a hot dryer for 10 minutes before washing them to kill any ticks that may be on the clothes.
Gross! I See a Tick!
If you find a tick on your child or yourself, remove it asap! Dr. Troyana says to remove it by using forceps (tweezers). “Grasp the head as close to the skin as possible, pulling straight out. Wash and dry the bite area,” says Troyano. Place the tick in a sealed plastic bag or vial for testing and call your healthcare provider for more instructions.
Is It a Tick Bite?
You’re not likely to feel a tick biting you because they’re so small. “Tick bites look like a small red spot and sometimes have a black dot in the middle of them,” says Dr. Will Cole, a functional medicine practitioner. “Bites from ticks that may be carrying Lyme disease look like a bulls-eye. The bite will expand and form another red ring around the site of the original bite.” Dr. Cole notes that Lyme disease could still be possible even if the bite does not look like a bulls-eye. If the bite is irritated, place a cold compress on the area to help relieve pain and itchiness. “You can also dab apple cider vinegar on the area to promote faster healing,” suggests Dr. Cole.
Symptoms of Tick Bite
Tick bites not associated with Lyme disease will feel similar to that of a mosquito bite. They’ll be itchy, but if Lyme disease is present, the symptoms are more serious. “Within a month, you may experience extreme fatigue, joint and muscle pain, headaches, or flu-like symptoms of fever and chills,” says Dr. Cole. If you never saw the tick but a bite was present, tests can be done to determine if the bite was tick related. For more information about Lyme disease, visit the American Lyme Disease Foundation or Lymedisease.org.
How do you plan on protecting your family from Lyme disease? Share your tips with us!Tags : health safety