The most important way to protect your kids from Lyme disease is knowledge. I shared my story of Lyme Disease as well as the controversy and misunderstanding surrounding Lyme. Within this swirl of confusion, there are studies, facts and recommendations that rise to the surface and are the first line of defense against this insidious and potentially debilitating disease.
Even with the best protective measures, it’s possible – even likely – you or someone in your family will get a deer tick bite and Lyme. Click here for one grandmother’s story of how despite her efforts, she has Lyme.
While that sounds discouraging, what I hope you gain from the post is a deeper awareness and understanding about Lyme. With greater awareness, you can take preventative measures and you’re more likely to recognize signs (and trust yourself) earlier should someone you love get Lyme.
The earlier the treatment, the better the outcomes. Part of how to protect your kids from Lyme disease is guarding against chronic Lyme should your family be affected and undiagnosed. Untreated Lyme can lead to a chronic condition.
1. Learn About Lyme
Here are some key things to know about Lyme disease. Use the links to resources I list at the end of this post for more information.
- Lyme is a risk in all 50 states, it is no longer a disease of the northeastern US region.
- If you receive a positive blood test for Lyme, it’s absolute, you’ve got it. However, if you receive a negative test, you may still have it. You can’t trust a negative. Of people with acute culture-proven Lyme, 20-30% will continue to test negative on the Western Blot. There is no test for the actual spirochetes, only a test for the antibodies produced against it. There are also other tick borne illnesses not tested in commercial tests.
- Because of unreliable testing issues, the diagnosis of Lyme is a clinical one.
- It’s not know how long it takes to transfer the bacteria, it can be only seconds in children. Clearly we are not likely to see the exact moment a tick hops on our kids and we might not even see the tick itself. If you suspect Lyme, get treatment promptly. Lyme can spread widely through the body within hours to days.
- Some hallmarks of Lyme are that it moves around, it’s a migratory, transient pain. A child may complain of leg pain then a headache, then hip pain over the course of time. It’s also cyclical with symptoms presenting in one way in about four weeks cycles, and they may change. Are you starting to see how this is a tough diagnosis? Does your child complain of a headache monthly? Or sore knees?
- Another clue that it’s Lyme disease is the worsening effect at the time of the first treatment (this is called the Herxheimer reaction or Herxing). As the bacteria die off they release toxins into the body faster than the body can handle them creating a sudden and dramatic inflammatory response. If you or your child experience this Herxing effect, it’s another likely clue that it’s in fact Lyme.
- There is documented transmission from mother to fetus and the baby may be born with congenital Lyme. We do not know, but the Lyme spirochetes may survive in breastmilk, it’s recommended that nursing mothers are treated aggressively.
- Suspect Lyme in cases of SIDS, prematurity, respiratory distress, jaundice, even alzeimers.
- Peak season is considered April – September.
2. Know and Avoid Ticks’ Favorite Places
Ticks populate wooded and brushy areas, mulch and wood piles and places with tall grasses and vegetation. You’ll also find ticks in stone walls and anywhere there are mice. Be thoughtful about taking hikes in the woods and take extra precautions, these are higher risk areas, but the risk also lies in your back yard or at the local playground (tough to avoid, so you may consider treating your yard.) Avoid deer paths and stay to the center of any walking trails, furthest from the brushy edges. Then see tip #3.
3. Tick Check – Tick Check – Tick Check
Make tick checks part of your routine! On yourself and your kiddos, on your pets and your husbands. Do tick checks during outdoor time and as soon as you come in. I love this funny Brad Paisley song, “Ticks.”
Deer ticks are teeny tiny; nymphs are about the size of a poppy seed and adults closer to a sesame seed size. Check hair, behind ears, armpits, behind knees. Be thorough in your search even checking inside baby’s diaper area well. I once pulled one off one of my kids bottoms and I was happy they were at the age that I was still working down in that area to catch it.
Use your hands, not just your eyes to check. Since they are so tiny, you may be more likely to feel it than see it.
There is some thinking that if you pull a tick off your child, you should begin treatment. Read more here about how to remove a tick and considerations for prophylactic treatment. Certainly see a qualified LLMD (see tip #6). The longer a child goes without an appropriate diagnosis, the more difficult and longer the clinical treatment course will become.
Be vigilant in your tick checks and report any rashes to your doctor. The classic bull’s eye ring rash may show up weeks after a bite or may never be experienced, only about a third of people infected with Lyme get the rash.
4. Clothing, Skin and Yards
Wearing long pants tucked into socks, hats, and long sleeves can keep ticks away from your skin. Light colored clothing may help you spot a tick. Spraying a DEET repellant onto your clothing is also recommended. It’s the tick-prevention fashion. It’s not glamorous to be out there in the garden with your long white socks up over your pant legs, but it can help protect you.
Showering as soon as possible after being out in the yard or woods can wash away any unattached ticks, plus you want to wash off any bug spray. Put the clothes you were wearing directly into the laundry to wash in hot water. Thirty minutes on high heat in the dryer will also kill ticks.
It’s a personal choice how you want to treat spraying chemicals on your clothing, skin and lawns. There are products out there for each. It’s important to weigh the costs and benefits of both the chemicals and the risk of Lyme Disease.
The following prevention summary is provided by BLAST! Lyme Prevention:
BLAST Safety Steps
B athe or shower soon after coming indoors
L ook for ticks and remove with tweezers
A pply repellents for skin and/or clothing
S pray the perimeter of your yard for ticks
T reat your pets
5. Protect Your Pets to Protect Your Family
Ticks can enter the family home riding along on your dog or cat. Dogs lay in and run through the grass and can carry in ticks that can cause harm to your pet as well as infect humans. The Companion Animal Parasite Council predicts an extremely high risk of Lyme for 2013.
Veterinarian, Dr. Tracy McKenzie says: “I talk to my clients about Lyme disease nearly every day. It is typically much more serious in people, but some dogs that are exposed will also have clinical disease. Most are not too ill and typically respond well to treatment, but dogs can get a renal form of the disease which is VERY difficult to treat. For dogs, monitoring for exposure and illness along with vaccines is important, but effective tick control on pets can be important for animal and human safety. It is possible for a pet to bring a tick into the house and then pass it to human family members.”
6. Know the Symptoms of Lyme
Lyme has three stages:
- Right after the tick bites: Possible bull’s eye rash, generalized flu-like symptoms, headache, swollen glands, fever, chills, joint aches.
- Within weeks: If left untreated, symptoms could subside but the Lyme can spread. Joint and muscle aches, Bell’s Palsy, heart palpitations, shooting pains, stiff neck and severe headaches which may be signs of meningitis.
- Weeks, months, or years after the bite (average of 6 months after): This stage can occur if the early stages of the disease were not detected or weren’t treated effectively. Symptoms in this late stage are intermittent bouts of arthritis, swelling in joints and severe pain, neurological symptoms including tingling or numbness in hands and feet or confusion. In teens and children, this stage usually presents as arthritis in knees and large joints. Refer to tip #1, hallmarks of the disease are migrant, cyclical pains.
Many of these symptoms, especially if not experienced or recognized in connection with a rash or removal of a tick, can appear to be other illnesses like a viral infection, flu or arthritis. Hypotonia (low muscle tone) in babies is the number one symptom.
Like my Lyme doctor told me: “If you have flu-like symptoms in the summer, it’s Lyme until proven otherwise.” Here is a list of possible Lyme symptoms on the Tick Borne Disease Alliance website.
7. Find a Lyme Literate Doctor – LLMD
If you’ve been bitten, suspect a bite or have a sense that someone in your family may be infected, find a Lyme Literate Doctor. Finding a doctor who really understands Lyme and how to best treat it is critical in getting a proper and prompt diagnosis and treatment. Seek second opinions and advocate for treatment in your children if you suspect Lyme.
Due to the nature of the controversial climate that Lyme doctors find themselves in, many Lyme doctors keep a low profile and you’d be hard pressed to find named listings of LLMDs. The link below explains how to use various organizations to find a doctor in your area. Click here to find a LLMD.
There is so much to learn and know about Lyme, it’s overwhelming. I’ve boiled down my top 7 tips for protecting your kids from Lyme disease but for more information, here are my recommendations of key Lyme disease resources :
International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS)
Lyme Disease Network
Lyme Disease Association
Tick Borne Disease Alliance