Wondering how to protect your child against the dangerous tick-borne diseases? Worry no more. Here is all that you need to know about these diseases including their causes, symptoms and remedies.
In this article:
A Guide for Tick-Borne Diseases in Children
What is it?
Tick-borne diseases occur due to tick bites on the skin. Ticks are tiny bloodsucking arthropods, classified into 2 families: Argasidae (soft ticks) and Ixodidae (hard ticks). They act as vectors of various bacteria, viruses and parasites and cause most vector-borne diseases to humans in the US.
The habitats of your children and the ticks overlap in spring and summer. Hence, undoubtedly most of the tick-borne diseases in humans occur in children when they go out to play in grassy, moist, humid places. For instance, two-thirds of the incidents of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (a tick-borne disease) occur in children below 15 years and mainly attacks between 5-9 years.
Causes of Tick-Borne Diseases in Children
It’s the most common tick-borne disease, caused by the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi. Its main tick vectors are Ixodes pacificus and Ixodes scapularis. Its reservoirs are the white-tailed deer and the white-footed mouse.
New Tick-Borne Disease
A new tick-borne disease, revealed in eastern and western US, may increase the anxiety of Lyme victims to venture outdoors. It’s caused by the bacteria Borrelia miyamotoi, belonging to the same group of bacteria and carried by the same ticks as those of Lyme.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF)
Its agent is Rickettsia rickettsii– a tiny intracellular bacillus. It’s found in Dermacentor andersoni (the wood tick) and Dermacentor variabilis (the dog tick) which act as its reservoirs as well as vectors.
It’s caused by Francisella tularensis, a gram-negative, nonmotile aerobic coccobacillus. Its natural reservoirs include ticks (mainly), hares and rabbits while vectors include ticks, deer flies and fleas. Such tick vectors are D. variabilis, Dermacentor andersoni and A. americanum.
Its etiologic agent is intraerythrocytic protozoa, mainly Babesia microti. Its tick vector is I. scapularis, which also harbours B. burgdorferi. Hence, a patient may get Babesiosis and Lyme disease simultaneously.
It’s caused by the gram-negative intracellular coccobacilli, Ehrlichia which resemble Rickettsiae. Ehrlichia chaffeensis, which infects monocytes, causes Human Monocytic Ehrlichiosis (HME). D. variabilis and A. americanum are its main tick vectors. Human Granulocytic Ehrlichiosis (HGE) is caused by one species closely related to Ehrlichia phagocytophilia and Ehrlichia equi. Its principal reservoirs are white-tailed deer and tick vectors are Ixodes, as in Lyme.
Symptoms of Tick-Borne Diseases in Children
These are the most common tick-borne disease symptoms for all the diseases.
Headache, muscle aches and fatigue are also common tick-borne disease symptoms. Lyme disease is associated with joint pain also.
Rashes are the most prominent tick-borne disease symptoms and their appearance varies according to the different tick-borne diseases.
Its circular rash called “erythema migrans” (EM) is the first sign of its infection. It appears typically within 3-30 days before the associated fever. It begins at the point of the tick bite and looks like a “target” lesion. Some children may develop more lesions in other body areas after several days.
Its rash varies a lot from individual to individual in its time of onset, location and appearance. It usually appears after 2-5 days of the onset of fever. It looks like small, red to purple, flat non-itchy petechial spots (macules) on the forearms, wrists and ankles, spreading to the trunk.
A skin ulcer typically appears at the site of the tick bite. It’s associated with swelling of regional lymph glands, generally in the groin or armpit.
Its rash may appear macular or maculopapular or petechial after the onset of fever.
Home Remedies for Tick-Borne Diseases in Children
Tick-borne diseases if mild can be treated at home, but if severe, would need hospitalization.
Prevention comes before cure. Follow these measures to prevent your kids against tick bites:
- Dress up your kid in full-sleeved shirts and long pants before going for a walk in tall grass or woods. Ticks love such moist humid places. Tuck in their pants’ bottoms in socks and shoes.
- Check your kid’s body for ticks more carefully if they visit grassy fields or woods.
- Treat your child’s clothing with permethrin, a better insect repellent against ticks than DEET. Don’t apply directly onto the skin.
- If your child is older than 2 months, apply an insect repellent having 10-30% DEET (after applying sunscreen) on his exposed skin excluding his face. Reapply it as directed.
Tick Removal and Treating Bitten Site
If you spot a tick on your child’s skin, here are some quick solutions:
Use a warm, wet cotton ball
Soak a small cotton ball in slightly warm, soapy water. Allow it to stay on your child’s skin for half a minute. While removing the ball, the tick must come with it.
Pull out the tick with tweezers
If the above doesn’t work out, try to remove the tick with tweezers. Hold the tick firmly and carefully at its head near your child’s skin. Now pull it firmly and steadily till it lets go. Never twist or jerk your tweezers as then, you may pull out only the tick’s body. In that case, get your kid tested for Lyme.
Wipe down the bitten site
Wipe the bitten site with warm soapy water. Then, apply an antibiotic ointment (such as Neosporin) once on the bitten area.
Avoid petroleum jelly, lit match or rubbing alcohol
These folk remedies of tick removal may worsen things by allowing the tick to dig in the skin deeper. So skip them all.
Safely lay aside the tick for later
Safely seal the tick in a jar or plastic bag and produce it to your paediatrician, who can tell you if it’s a tick vector of Lyme or any of the other tick-borne diseases.
That’s all about the causes, symptoms and home remedies of tick-borne diseases in children. However, take your child to a paediatrician if you can’t remove the tick within 24 hours or your child develops any of the discussed tick-borne disease symptoms.