By Heather Edgley, M.D.
Summer in East Tennessee is all about enjoying the outdoors, soaking up area lakes, taking a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains or hosting a backyard barbecue. Just keep in mind that we aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the warmer weather. It‘s also peak tick season in the region.
While most tick bites are harmless and don’t require medical attention, some ticks carry harmful germs and cause diseases. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is the most common tick-borne disease we see in East Tennessee and at Children’s Hospital.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever usually causes a red dot-like rash on your wrists and ankles. Lyme disease is also seen, but much less common in our region, with a rash that resembles a bull’s-eye.
Other symptoms of most tick-related illnesses are fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, and muscle and joint aches. Seek medical care if your child has these symptoms combined with a rash. Don’t panic if you find a tick on your child because the chance of developing a tick-borne disease is very low.
Think prevention. Keeping grass cut short around your home and play areas can keep ticks at bay. When you go into wooded areas, where ticks mainly live, wearing clothing that covers your arms and legs is best. Use an insect repellent containing 10 to 30 percent DEET, an active ingredient in most repellents. Make sure to follow the recommendations on the product’s label. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that products for children should contain no more than 30 percent DEET.
“Doctors don’t need to treat most tick bites, unless your child gets a tick-borne disease like Rocky Mountain spotted fever.”
Ticks can be as small as the point of a pin and their bite doesn’t hurt, making it tougher to detect them. Ticks find their hosts by detecting breath and body odors, or by sensing body heat, moisture and vibrations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ticks often wait for a host near well-used paths, resting on the tips of grasses and shrubs. Ticks can’t fly or jump, but many tick species wait in a position known as questing.
While questing, the CDC reports ticks hold onto leaves and grass by their third and fourth pair of legs. They hold the first pair of legs outstretched, waiting to climb on to the host. When a host brushes the spot where a tick is waiting, it quickly climbs aboard.
After being outdoors, every member of the family needs to be thoroughly checked for ticks. Look closely at your child’s scalp, neck, underarms, behind the knee and even the groin area. These are some of the common areas a tick might attach, but check everywhere. Every time your child plays outside, wash the play clothes and help your child bathe thoroughly.
If you find a tick, remove it immediately by using fine-tipped tweezers. Grasp the tick firmly at its head or mouth, next to the skin. Pull the tick straight up and out. If part of the tick is left behind, wipe the area with alcohol and call your child’s pediatrician.
Don’t use a lit match or petroleum jelly to remove or kill a tick. This could actually cause the bloodsucker to burrow deeper into the skin, releasing more bacteria and germs.
Doctors don’t need to treat most tick bites, unless your child gets a tick-borne disease like Rocky Mountain spotted fever. In that case, your child would be treated with antibiotics. Parents should take extra precautions to prevent tick bites and look for ticks on children and pets. But remember, kids should be kids-try not to scare them and do encourage them to enjoy the great outdoors.
Heather Edgley, M.D., is an emergency medicine doctor at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. Visit www.etch.com for more information.
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