While tick bites are of great concern for most parents, it’s important to also remember that most tick bites are harmless. Understanding ticks, where they live, how to prevent bites, how to remove one if a bite occurs and what to look for, will equip parents to comfortably care for their children during the outdoor months.
Ticks come in 2 different sizes, the small pin-head sized deer tick and the larger dog tick which may be the size of an eraser-head. While the 2 sizes are relatively easy to distinguish from each other, it is important to remember that in the spring especially, the larger dog tick may appear smaller in its nymph stage, not fully grown. Tick bites are painless, therefore they may go unnoticed for several hours or even days. Most tick bites are harmless.
The spread of disease by a tick is rare. An infected deer tick may transmit Lyme disease, an infected dog tick may transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Ticks may be carriers of other diseases as well. An infected tick can only transmit Lyme disease after it has been attached to a person 12 to 24 hours, therefore nightly checks during high tick seasons are a must!
Ticks live in grasses and shrubby vegetation, usually waist-high or below. Very few are found in lawns because short lawns are too hot and dry for a tick. Ticks prefer cool, moist woodlands where they might find a host.
To prevent tick bites, use these precautions when you are outdoors in suitable tick areas:
1. Wear light-colored clothing. (This makes it easier to see a tick.)
2. Wear long pants and tuck them into your socks.
3. Avoid long grasses and shrubby areas.
4. Remove brush piles in your yard.
5. For children over 2 years of age, use insect repellent that contains 10-30% DEET. For children under 2 years of age, use insect repellent (10-30% DEET) sparingly.
6. Keep long hair pulled back or pulled up in a cap when outdoors.
7. Check pets for ticks after they’ve been outside. Use a tick-repelling collar or medicine for your pet.
8. Wash all clothes after playing in woodlands.
9. Shower and wash hair after playing in woodlands. Check child’s body and scalp for possible ticks.
If you find a tick on your child, remove the tick by following these steps:
1. Using a fine-tipped tweezers, grasp the head of the tick close to the skin.
2. Pull straight back, without twisting or rocking the tick.
3. Kill the tick by placing it in alcohol.
4. Cleanse the area with rubbing alcohol or another antiseptic.
5. If the body is removed, but not the head, leave the head intact. The body will slough it out. Trying to dig the head out with a needle simply increases the chance for a localized infection.
6. Apply an over the counter antibiotic ointment to the site. It is not uncommon for a pink itchy bump to remain at the site of the bite for 2-3 weeks.
7. You do not need to save the tick.
8. Wash your hands with soap and water.
Signs and Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF):
RMSF is relatively rare. The symptoms develop typically within 1 week of a tick bite, but can take up to 2 weeks to appear. Symptoms usually appear suddenly, usually beginning with a high fever, head ache and muscle aches. Other symptoms may mimic the stomach flu: abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fatigue. The trademark rash usually begin on the wrists, ankles, palms of hands and soles of feet, then spreads upwards to the legs, arms and trunk. The rash looks like small, flat red splotches. They are not itchy.
Diagnosis is based on symptoms. Treatment is usually oral or IV antibiotics.
Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease:
The first sign of infection is usually a bull’s-eye rash around the tick bite, a central red spot surrounded by clear skin that is ringed by an expanding red rash or expanding redness. It may be warm to touch but is usually not painful or itchy. The rash usually develops within 1-2 weeks after the tick bite. Other symptoms that the child develops are flu-like symptoms, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, fever and/or joint pain.
Lyme disease is not contagious; it is not transmitted from person to person. Treatment is usually oral or IV antibiotics. Children treated in the early stages with antibiotics usually recover quickly and completely.