Lyme disease safety tips for the summer

Summer’s ideal climate often encourages a variety of pests and diseases, including Lyme disease. While Lyme disease tends to be rare and preventable, the ticks that cause it and several other tick-borne illnesses have significantly increased in Illinois over the last decade.

Lurie Children’s Infectious Diseases Physician Dr. Tina Tan prepares families with what they should know about Lyme disease, prevention methods and what to do if a child is suspected to have it.

“Lyme disease is an infectious disease brought on by bacteria-carrying ticks and can pose serious risks to a child’s safety and health,” said Tan. “If not treated, the infection can also lead to problems with the skin, heart, brain and joints.”

That being said, not all tick bites cause Lyme disease and a vast majority of ticks do not carry the infection.

Symptoms of Lyme disease will vary based on the stage, but fortunately they tend to be easy to spot.

“Early on, a large circular rash will develop around the location of the bite. Some people also report flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills and headaches,” said Tan.

Tan further explains that symptoms from the latest stages of the disease are the most severe and can include arthritis [typically in the knees], abnormal sensation caused by the nervous system, confusion and even an irregular heartbeat,” she said.

The most efficient way to prevent Lyme disease, she says, is to avoid areas where ticks thrive. Children spend more time exploring outside in the summer months, and therefore the chances of them receiving a tick bite during this season increases.

If a child does venture into wooded areas, it’s important to remind them to cover exposed areas with insect repellent containing at least 30% DEET, Tan suggests. If a child will be camping outdoors, it’s recommended they use repellent with permethrin, however, Tan says this should NOT be applied to the skin, only to clothes.

Additionally, it’s smart to make a habit out of examining children for ticks after they’ve been outside in wooded areas.

“Check for ticks as soon as they come inside from a tick-endemic area. You need to check every part of their body, including behind the knees, elbows, armpits, behind the ears and neck and anywhere covered in hair,” said Tan. “Areas covered in hair are places where ticks can hide, so check them carefully. Dogs or cats that spend time outside also need to be checked for ticks.”

Not every tick bite will result in Lyme disease, but for those who worry their child may have been bitten, proper removal of the tick will be necessary.

Tan suggests using fine-tipped tweezers and pinching the part of the tick that’s closest to the skin, preferably the head. After removal, wash the bite with soap and warm water. Do not use a match, nail polish or petroleum jelly to remove the pest.

Unfortunately, not all victims of Lyme disease show symptoms. For those who suspect they have been bitten, Tan suggests seeking medical help and testing immediately. Fortunately, most cases of Lyme disease are curable with antibiotics, especially when it’s identified at an early stage.

Children's health is a continuing series. This column was provided by Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. Learn more about Lurie Children's Division of Infectious Diseases at

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