Lyme disease is a condition that can be incredibly painful and potentially life-altering for those affected. Carried by the deer tick, the infection that causes Lyme disease is a bacteria known as Borrelia burgdorferi, and infections commonly occur in certain regions of North America and Europe.
Lyme disease is transmitted when a person is bitten by an infected tick. For this reason, people who spend a lot of time outdoors in rural or woodland areas are more at risk of being exposed. Lyme disease can occur at any age. In fact, according to the Canadian Pediatric Society, one of the largest age groups for incidence of Lyme disease is children aged 5 to 9 years old.
Like with many pediatric illnesses, it can be difficult for a caregiver to know if their child has been affected. Children typically have a more difficult time communicating their discomforts, which may be one of the reasons so many cases are not reported.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Children
The symptoms of Lyme disease can be transient and difficult to pinpoint. For children, some of the manifestations of the symptoms, such as behavioral and neurological problems, can seem like typical childhood problems and not a symptom on an underlying medical issue. Additionally, although there are commonly recognized symptoms of infection, not all people show all symptoms.
There are three recognized stages of a Lyme disease infection.
Early symptoms include a bullseye rash known as Erythema Migrans that is pink or red in color and located at the site of the bite. This rash typically appears within a month of the child being bitten and may be painless, although unsightly, sometimes growing to up to 2 inches in length. This may be accompanied by fever, headaches, stiffness and joint pain. In children, some of these symptoms might easily be mistaken for the common flu.
The second stage of Lyme's infection may include symptoms such as multiple rashes, facial paralysis (also known as Bell's palsy) and meningitis. In some cases, heart problems may also occur.
Late stage infection of Lyme disease is often characterized by joint problems including arthritis. This typically affects the larger joints, most often the knees. These symptoms are a result of untreated Lyme's disease, and can show up even years later.
Causes of Lyme Disease in Children
Humans are exposed to the ticks that carry Lyme's disease in rural areas and while hiking or camping in woodland regions. The ticks that carry the disease can be found in bushes, trees, and tall grass. If an individual walks through the brush with exposed skin they may be subject to bites, potentially contracting the illness.
Ticks can be very hard to spot as they are quite small. Even if a person has been bitten by a tick they may not know right away, or ever.
There are some things that you can do to help minimize the risk of your child being exposed to deer tick bites. Wearing clothing that covers all skin, including the feet, is one way to limit their exposure to tick bites. Tucking pants into shoes and wearing light clothing so ticks are easily visible is also advised. It's a good idea to check out your child after being outdoors to ensure they don't have any ticks on their skin, clothing or hair.
What You Should Do if You Suspect a Lyme Disease Infection
If you suspect that your child may have been bitten by a tick or exposed to Lyme disease, you should contact your doctor. Keep your eyes open for initial infection symptoms such as a bullseye shaped rash, symptoms that mimic the flu and complaints of joint pain.
According to the Caring for Kids website, it's important to note that blood tests for Lyme's are not always accurate early on, and if infection is suspected the person should be given precautionary antibiotic treatment.
If you actually find a tick on your child's skin, it is possible to remove it if you do so carefully. According to Kidshealth,org, to remove a tick from the skin you should grab it by the head region, close to the skin using tweezers. Pull firmly to remove the tick, then clean the area with rubbing alcohol. It's advisable to keep the tick in case a doctor may need to inspect it, however make sure that you do so in a properly sealed container.