Here's What To Do If Your Child Gets A Tick This Summer

By Dr. Kristin Seaborg

Here's What To Do If Your Child Gets A Tick This Summer

July 19, 2013 Updated Jul 19, 2013 at 3:39 PM EDT

Summer is a wonderful time to get together with family and friends. What if there are a few unwanted guests at your family gathering?

Have you ever tried to rub off what seemed like a speck of dirt on your otherwise pristine child and found that a tick has made itself at home? Or have you been asked to participate in a neighborhood ritual tick removal that has involved more products from your bathroom or kitchen than it usually takes to bake a cake?

Two common types of ticks in the United States are the wood tick and the deer tick. Wood ticks are about the size of a watermelon seed with black and gray horizontal markings on their back. Deer ticks are much smaller, about the size of a pepper seed, and usually have a smooth backside and underbelly with a red tint. Deer ticks are the carriers of Lyme disease. 

Most Lyme-infected ticks in the United States are in the Northeast and the Northern Midwest.  In order for an infected deer tick to transmit Lyme disease to an unsuspecting human, the tick has to be attached and feeding for at least 24 – 48 hours.  Therefore, by checking your family members for ticks at the end of a day outside and removing any attached ticks properly, you can reduce your chance of acquiring a tick-borne disease to nearly 0%.

So what do you do if you find a tick attached to your child?  First off, don’t panic.  And no matter what you heard from your neighbor, DON’T go grab the matches to burn the tick out!  There is also no reason to use petroleum jelly, Crisco, or any other caustic substance to remove the tick.  Besides making your child smell like a bakery, putting these substances on the tick will actually promote the tick to regurgitate saliva (i.e. puke) into your child, thereby enhancing the chance of transmission of any tick-borne infection. 

Because the tick has burrowed his head and pincers into your flesh and used its Darwinian cement to glue itself down, your task is to use brute force to remove him.  Use a pair of tweezers to grab the tick at the point of attachment and pull upward firmly until the tick is free.  There is no room for subtlety here.  If the tick comes out in pieces, that’s OK, as long as all the pieces are eventually removed. 

If you are able to remove a tick that has been attached for only a short period of time, no  further testing or treatment is required.  If you notice a rash with raised, irregular borders or symptoms such as fatigue or body aches, then visit your primary care physician for evaluation. Your doctor might recommend Lyme testing, treatment with antibiotics, or may find another cause for your symptoms.

If you make family tick checks a nightly ritual at the end of the day, hopefully the only thing “bugging” you this summer will be the time flying by!

Kristin Seaborg is a Wisconsin pediatrician who writes about her experiences as a pediatrician and a parent of three children on her blog, Common Sense Motherhood www.kristinseaborg.com/blog.  To find out more about Dr. Seaborg, you can visit her at her website, www.kristinseaborg.com.

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