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Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy April 10, 2012 01:13 PM
Just last week, as my youngest was about to get his hair washed for a haircut, we found a tick on his head. Luckily it was still crawling around and hadn't bitten him yet, but it was a clear reminder that indeed, tick season is upon us. And since the weather has been so mild, many ticks survived the winter -- so they are off to a head start.
While most ticks and tick bites are harmless, ticks can carry infection. The most common infection in the US, and the one we see here in the Northeast, is Lyme disease. It's caused by a germ (Borrelia burgdorferi, how's that for a mouthful) carried by black-legged ticks (also called deer ticks). If not caught early, Lyme disease can affect the joints, heart, and even the nervous system.
That's why it's really important that parents know the facts about ticks and Lyme disease. Do you? Take this quiz and find out!
1. True or False: You need to go hiking or otherwise be out in nature to get bitten by a tick.
Answer: False. Ticks live off the blood of rodents (usually mice) and other mammals, and hang out in places where they can meet up with those mice and other mammals -- usually tall grasses and low-lying vegetation like shrubs. These can be found in many a backyard, schoolyard, or local park.
2. True or False: The sprays you use against mosquitoes can help prevent tick bites.
Answer: True -- provided you use a spray that contains DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide). Use one that has at least 20 percent DEET, but not more than 30 percent (the maximum recommended for children). You (not your kids) should spray exposed skin as well as clothing (you can also use sprays containing permethrin to spray clothes, tents, and other gear). Avoid the mouth, eyes, and hands (since hands tend to go to mouths and eyes).
3. True or False: As soon as the tick bites, it spreads the germ that causes Lyme disease.
Answer: False! First of all, not all ticks are infected (it varies depending on geography and the age of the tick, but usually less than half are infected). And if they are, it takes around 36 hours for the tick to transmit the germ. This is very good news, because it means that if you do daily tick checks on your children (look them over carefully as you put them in the tub or get them into pajamas), you cut way back on the risk of Lyme. Check the pets daily, too -- not only do you want to prevent any ticks from crawling onto you while you snuggle with them, but pets can also get Lyme disease.
4. True or False: Lyme disease is contagious.
Answer: False. The only way to catch Lyme disease is to get bitten by an infected tick.
5. The best way to remove a tick is:
a. Put a hot match on it
b. Smother it with Vaseline and wait for it to fall off
c. Using a tweezer, grab it as close to the skin as possible and pull it straight out.
Answer: c. Don't wiggle it -- pull straight. It generally comes out easily. If the mouth parts are still there, don't worry -- they will come out on their own. After removal, wash the area with soap and water. Remember where it was (take or draw a picture)--it may be useful to know later.
6. The symptoms of Lyme disease are:
a. a rash
c. fatigue and headache
d. joint pains
e. all of the above
Answer: e. In 70 to 80 percent of cases, the first sign of Lyme is a ring-like rash, at the site of the tick bite (that's why it's important to remember where the bite was). If you see this, let your doctor know immediately so that treatment can be started. Without treatment, the rash usually spreads, and then the other symptoms set in. However, sometimes the rash is missed or not present at all. If your child had a tick bite and has any of the above symptoms, you should let your doctor know.
7. True or False: Lyme Disease can be cured by antibiotics.
Answer: True -- with caveats. Most people who get treated are completely cured. But some people who get Lyme disease may have symptoms that linger for months or years, especially if it's not caught early. That's why prevention is key. So start spraying and doing those daily tick checks!
For more information about ticks and Lyme disease, visit the Ticks page of the website of the Centers for Disease Control.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
About MD MamaClaire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »
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