It is the time of year many families are spending time outdoors including camping and hiking. I often get phone calls from worried parents about finding a tick on their children and concerns about what to do. Ticks are most active in the warmer months (April - Sept), while we are also enjoying vacations. Many parents are concerned about tick borne illnesses, as well as just being “grossed” out with the idea of finding a tick on their child.
The number one thing to remember is to try to prevent a tick bite, which means using insecticide before you plan on hiking etc. It is important to use a product that contains enough DEET, so if you are going to an area with an increased incidence of ticks ( especially that carry disease) use a product that contains 20-30% DEET, which will provide several hours of protection. Make sure to avoid your child’s hands, eyes and mouth. You can also spray your clothes with a permethrin product prior to exposure. Interestingly, the clothes that have been sprayed with a 0.5% permethrin product remain protective through several washings.
Now that you have protection before you go out you want to bathe or shower after you return from an outdoor activity, and the sooner the better. This is the best time to check your child for ticks. Check their head and hair as well as in the ears, belly button, groin, between their legs and under their arms.
If you find a tick use fine tipped tweezers to grasp the head of the tick as close to the skin as possible. Resist the urge to “yank” the tick, but rather apply slow steady upward pressure to release the tick from the skin. Once the tick is removed wash the area with alcohol or soap and water. It is a myth that you can remove the tick by painting it with fingernail polish.
While not all ticks transmit disease, in certain areas of the country the black-legged deer tick may cause Lyme disease. In most cases a tick must be attached for 36-48 hours before the bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) is transmitted. So, back to the bath and look for ticks after you are home for the day.
Once the tick is removed and the area is cleaned you are generally good to go. You do not need to “save” the tick to show to the doctor. But, if you live in an area known for Lyme disease ( the Northeastern U.S. in particular), watch for a red bull’s eye rash that spreads over several days. This typically occurs within a week after the tick bite. A small red bump left after the tick bite is not the same thing and will resolve in a day or two, rather than “grow”. Lyme disease also causes fever, chills, headache, joint pains and swollen lymph nodes.
Lyme disease is best treated early with a course of antibiotics….so if concerned seek treatment in the early stages of infection.