Warmer weather has arrived, and children and families are spending more time outside enjoying their favorite summer activities like hiking, gardening, and camping. An increase in outdoor activity can mean greater exposure to the ticks that carry the germ responsible for Lyme disease. In response to a high number of calls and visits from concerned parents, the physicians at EMMC Pediatric Medicine are sharing Lyme disease prevention tips and dispelling common myths about the disease.
“Symptoms to look for in your child include a bulls-eye rash, fever, muscle aches, and sometimes joint pain,” says Colette Sabbagh, MD, a physician at EMMC Pediatric Medicine. “Late onset symptoms include multiple rashes, swollen joints, headache, and fatigue.”
There were fewer than 1400 cases of Lyme disease in Maine last year, which means that any individual’s risk of being affected is low. Lyme disease can only be transmitted by a tick that is attached to the skin for at least 24 hours.
“Parents can take several steps to prevent tick bites,” adds Dr. Sabbagh. “Use an EPA-approved insect repellant like DEET and check your child’s body every day. Showering after spending time outside is also a good idea. If you find a tick, use a tick spoon or tweezers and pull it out gently.”
Dr. Sabbagh notes that if an embedded tick is found, parents can call their child’s pediatrician to discuss the need for an examination or additional testing. An accurate diagnosis requires an office visit. A trip to the pediatrician’s office is advised if a child experiences any of the classic signs of Lyme disease so that a proper diagnosis can be made. The symptoms may not be caused by Lyme disease, and it is important to find the nature of the problem so treatment can begin. It is not necessary to send the tick to a lab for testing.
According to Dr. Sabbagh, in almost every case, children who have Lyme disease make a full recovery after taking antibiotics. In rare cases, symptoms continue after antibiotics are taken; if this occurs, a consultation with an infectious disease specialist is advised. There is no evidence that taking antibiotics for a longer period of time is effective in treating Lyme disease.
“The most important thing for people to remember is that while Lyme disease is something to be aware of and take precautions against, it’s not a good reason to keep your kids inside this summer,” says Dr. Sabbagh. “Summers are beautiful in Maine, and it’s healthy for children to be outside and active. Know the signs and symptoms, contact your child’s pediatrician if you have concerns, and understand that if Lyme disease occurs, it’s treatable.”