Tick Season 101: Know The Facts + Action Steps
Summertime! Swimming pools, sunshine, outdoor barbecues…. and ticks. Ticks thrive in warm and humid environments, so “tick season” is technically considered to be between June and August, but unfortunately, ticks are present year round, particularly in areas like the Northeast and Mid Atlantic US. These areas have the highest concentration of ticks that carry the germ which causes Lyme disease. That being said, ticks can be the vectors for other diseases as well.
The most commonly known tick borne illness is Lyme disease, a bacterial infection whose symptoms include, swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, and often the well known “bullseye rash.” It can spread to the organs, joints, and other areas of the body. According to the CDC, there are an average of 30,000 new cases of Lyme disease reported among children each year.*
Lyme disease is treatable, and can be totally eradicated if treated in a timely manner. Making the diagnosis of Lyme disease can be challenging because symptoms do not always appear immediately following a bite from an infected tick; it could take a few weeks. Additionally, Lyme disease does not show up in a blood test for about 3-6 weeks post-tick encounter.
It’s always preferable to prevent rather than treat an infection, and with tick populations at their highest this time of year, it’s imperative that parents and caregivers are armed with the facts about tick avoidance, safe removal, and when to seek medical assistance.
Avoidance is Key
Prevent tick contact by doing the following:
Steer clear of long grass: ticks hang out in mulch, all grassy areas, and in leaf litter. Ticks do not fly or jump, they crawl, so try to avoid walking through long, unmaintained grass, leaf piles, or overgrown shrubbery.
Wear shoes, socks + long pants: Cover the areas of your child’s body where these little crawlers can most easily travel. I even advise tucking long pants into socks if possible. That way, ticks will have a harder time finding skin to penetrate and you may catch them before they attach.
You can apply insect repellent to kids!: Insect repellents that contain up to 30% DEET are effective and safe for children as young as 2 months old. Reapply every few hours.
Do a *proper* tick check: Look at all areas of the body and give kids a proper visual inspection when they come inside from being outdoors. Stand upright with arms out, in the shape of a T. Ticks will generally travel to the warmest areas of the body: the groin, waistband area, underarms, in the hair, however, they can also attach in odd places such as behind the ears and between the toes. Remove all clothing (I mean, ALL clothing!) from a child upon coming inside and check all of these notorious tick-hiding areas. Once a visual inspection is complete, showering after outdoor play is a good idea, as well.
Wash clothes in HOT water: Ticks hang out on clothing so throwing clothes into the wash immediately after they come off and washing on “hot” will kill the problem…literally. Place clothing in a hot dryer as well to kill ticks.
I Found a Tick! Now What?
Tick removal is best done using clean, thin/fine-tipped tweezers and gently grabbing the tick as close to the skin as possible, as not to leave any of the tick’s body attached to the skin. It’s most effective to pull upward with a steady motion to ensure the tick’s full body is removed. Once removed, clean hands with soap and water and it’s fine to wipe the area of the skin where the tick was found with rubbing alcohol.
Never squeeze an engorged tick if found on the body, as this could force harmful fluids from the tick into the person. If the tick appears to be engorged, grasp its head and mouth close to the skin with tweezers to remove.
When to Call The Doc
Even if you do not find a tick, you may spot the bite on the skin. It can take on any red appearance, but most famously looks like a bullseye with a red ring around a red bump. If you see the bullseye rash, call your physician. This is where all parents are allowed to let out a collective “ugh.”
As a physician and a parent, I share your loathing and fears around ticks. They truly are, quite simply, the worst. Stay safe, know the proper action steps, and try to enjoy the summer season regardless of an up”tick” in these not-so-friendly crawlers.
*Source: Center for Disease Control / cdc.gov