The Dangers of Ticks & Lyme Disease

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In Michigan, tick season extends from late April to early October, and the annual tick forecast predicts the Midwest will face an above-average threat level this year as the summer heat stays until later in the fall than usual. Ticks thrive in warm weather, inhabiting bushy or wooded areas and can be found in trees, shrubs and even leaf piles on the ground. Once a tick is on your clothes, it will move to a warm or moist part of your body – like the armpit, hair or groin – and once it’s in a spot desirable enough to feed on its host … will bite.

In some areas of the country, ticks can carry Lyme disease, an infection transmitted by bites from certain ticks, like deer ticks. Each year, around 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the CDC nationwide, and Michigan is no exception – with 413 cases being confirmed in 2019. Lyme disease occurs in stages and can be cured once treated; but if it’s not treated early, it can advance to the next stage. Untreated, Lyme disease can produce a range of symptoms including fever, rash, facial paralysis and arthritis. Early indications of Lyme disease (that occur 3-30 days after a tick bite) can include fever, fatigue, rashes, joint ache and swollen lymph nodes.

Hurley Children’s Hospital Director of Pediatric Infectious Disease, Dr. Yaseen Rafe’e, has already started seeing patients with tick bites this year, along with calls from parents concerned about what to do or how to remove a tick from their child. When it comes to tick prevention, Dr. Rafe’e says there is no official treatment to prevent tick bites, but parents can reduce the risk by following measures set by the CDC. The CDC recommends using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellent and being cautious when outside in wooded or bushy areas, making sure skin is covered with long-sleeved shirts and pants. After coming back indoors, checking clothes, gear and pets for ticks is important. Tumble-drying
clothes on high heat can kill any ticks that may have been missed in searches. Showering within two hours of coming indoors has been shown to reduce the risk of getting Lyme disease, may help to wash off unattached ticks and gives the opportunity to do a full-body tick check.

If a parent has found a tick on their child, it means they have already been bitten. “What matters is how long it has been attached and fed,” Dr. Rafe’e says. “The longer the tick is attached, the more the risk.” Typically, kids get infected if the tick has been attached or feeding for more than 72 hours. Experts can assess the duration by checking the engorgement size, while parents can help know the duration if they have been checking their child for ticks daily and know that the tick was not previously there.

If a tick is found on the body, be sure to not crush it with fingers or touch it with bare skin. It’s recommended to use fine tip tweezers and grab as close to the body as possible. Once the tick is held firmly in the tweezers, pull upward and be careful to not jerk or twist it, as this can cause the mouth to break off and stay embedded in the skin. Once the tick is removed, clean the bite area and dispose of the tick by putting it in alcohol, wrapping it tightly in tape or a plastic bag, or flushing it down the toilet.

If you live in an area where Lyme disease is common, it’s best to consider speaking with your healthcare provider. To schedule an appointment with Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Infectious Disease expert, Dr. Yaseen Rafe’e, call 810.262.9773 or visit hurleymc.com.

Lyme disease occurs in stages and can be cured once treated; but if it’s not treated early, it can advance to the next stage.

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