If you find a tick, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the head of the tick as close to the skin as possible, then slowly pull it out. Photo by fotolia
By Sue Hubbard, M.D.
At this time of year, many families spend lots of time outside, camping and hiking, playing outdoor sports, picnicking, or just communing with nature in parks, fields, forest preserves and their own back yards. It’s also high season for ticks.
Every year, from April through September, when ticks are most active, I get phone calls from worried parents who’ve found a tick on their child and wonder what to do. Many are concerned about tick-borne illnesses, as well as being simply “grossed out” by the sight of one of these pests burrowing under a child’s skin - or their own.
Prevention is the best weapon to ward off ticks, which means using insecticide before you or your kids set out on a hike or to play or camp out in a field or forest. It’s important to use a product that contains enough DEET. If you’re going to an area with an increased incidence of ticks (especially those species that carry disease) use a product that contains 20 percent to 30 percent DEET, which will provide several hours of protection.
Avoid spraying your child’s hands, eyes and mouth. Do spray their clothes (and yours!) with a permethrin product prior to exposure. Interestingly, clothes sprayed with a 0.5 percent permethrin product remain protective through several washings.
Even though you have protection before you go outside, be sure to bathe or shower after you return, 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” on the tick, but rather apply slow, steady, upward pressure to release the insect from the skin. Once the tick is removed, wash the area with alcohol or soap and water. It’s a myth that you can remove a 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 Lyme bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) is transmitted.
Once the tick is removed and the area is cleaned, you’re generally good to go. You don’t need to “save” the tick to show to your doctor. However, 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 a tick bite. (A small red bump left after a 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 you’re concerned, seek treatment in the early stages of infection.
Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award-winning pediatrician, medical editor and media host. “The Kid’s Doctor” TV feature can be seen on more than 90 stations across the U.S. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com. The Kid’s Doctor e-book, “Tattoos to Texting: Parenting Today’s Teen,” is now available from Amazon and other e-book vendors.
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This column was printed in the September 20, 2015 - October 3, 2015 edition.