Summer Safety for You and Your Kids
Mosquito and Tick Bites continued...
About 80% of people who get Lyme disease develop a large rash that looks like a bull's-eye or wheel. Baxley experienced other classic Lyme disease symptoms, such as muscle aches and stiff joints. His doctor also found a similar rash on Baxley's calf.
After a blood test confirmed Lyme disease, Baxley took an oral antibiotic followed by intravenous treatment with a second antibiotic. In addition to the physical symptoms, he also experienced depression. Baxley calls the whole experience frustrating. "It's taken a toll on the whole family," he says.
Ticks are usually harmless. One of the biggest disease threats from tick bites is Lyme disease, which is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. The bacteria are transmitted to humans by the black-legged deer tick, which is about the size of a pinhead and usually lives on deer. According to the CDC, there were about 30,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease reported nationwide in 2009.
Another insect-borne illness, West Nile virus, is transmitted by infected mosquitoes and usually produces mild symptoms in healthy people. But the illness can be serious for older people and those with compromised immune systems. In 2010, there were almost a thousand cases of West Nile virus in humans reported to the CDC. A small number of those infected with West Nile virus develop severe illness. The symptoms are flu-like and can include fever, headache, body aches, and skin rash.
Rarer but also dangerous diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever and equine encephalitis can also be transmitted by ticks or mosquitoes respectively.
Mosquito, tick bite prevention and treatment
There are no vaccines for West Nile virus or Lyme disease. If you're spending time in tall grass or woody areas, use insect repellent with DEET to ward off mosquitoes and ticks. Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months. Insect repellent used on children should contain no more than 30% DEET.
Check yourself and your children for ticks before bedtime. If you find a tick, remove it by grasping it as close to the skin as possible with tweezers and pulling gently but firmly. Early removal is important because a tick generally has to be on the skin for 36 hours or more to transmit Lyme disease. The CDC recommends cleansing the area of the tick bite with antiseptic. You don't have to save the tick to show it to the doctor. If you really want to have the tick tested, you could check with the local health department, but not all of them offer tick testing.
Over-the-counter antihistamines, such as Benadryl or Claritin, can bring itch relief. Read dosing directions carefully, and for children under age 6, check with a doctor. Hydrocortisone cream on the affected area also may help, especially with children. It’s also a good idea to keep children’s fingernails short and encourage them to rub, not scratch, itchy skin. Scratching can lead to broken skin followed by a bacterial infection.