Lyme Disease in Children: Symptoms & Treatment

Summer’s ideal climate comes with an array of pests and diseases. In recent months, there has been an increase in reported cases of Lyme disease. Below Tina Tan, MD, Infectious Diseases, provides what every parent and/or caregiver should know about Lyme disease, prevention methods and what to do if you suspect your child has Lyme disease. Keep in mind, Dr. Tan stresses that Lyme disease is rare and preventable.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease, an infectious disease brought on by bacteria-carrying ticks, can pose serious risks to your child’s safety and health. If not treated, the infection can lead to problems with the skin, heart, brain and joints. Not all tick bites cause Lyme disease and a vast majority of ticks do not carry the infection.

Some of the most common tick-borne diseases seen in the United States include Lyme disease, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, anaplasmosis, Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness, Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever, and tularemia. Some of these are relatively uncommon but still seen here in the US.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

Lyme disease symptoms vary through different stages of the disease, but luckily, these symptoms are usually easy to spot. Early on a large circular rash will develop around the location of the bite. Some individuals also report flu-like symptoms, such as: fever, chills, headaches, etc.

If the disease goes undetected and untreated, it can spread to the heart, joints and nervous system. The latest stages of the disease are the most severe and can include arthritis (most commonly in the knees), abnormal sensation caused by the nervous system, confusion, and even an irregular heartbeat.

Lyme Disease Prevention

To prevent Lyme disease avoid areas where ticks thrive. Because the summer is a time for children to explore, the chances of your child receiving a tick bite increase. If your child is venturing into wooded areas, remind them to cover exposed areas with insect repellent containing at least 30% DEET. Another alternative if your child will be camping outdoors, using repellent with permethrin, however, do NOT apply to the skin, only to clothes. It’s always a good practice to examine your child for ticks if they have been outside in wooded areas.

You should check for ticks as soon as you come inside after being outside in a tick-endemic area. You need to check every part of your body, including (behind the knees, elbows, armpits), behind your ears and neck and anywhere covered in hair. Carefully check areas covered in hair as these are places where ticks can hide. Dogs or cats that spend time outside also need to be checked for ticks.

How to Remove a Tick From a Child

It is important understand that not every tick bite will result in Lyme disease. If you or your child are worried you may have been bitten, proper removal is necessary when attempting to extract the unwanted pest. Using fine-tipped tweezers, pinch the part of the tick that’s closest to your 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.

Is there anything Illinois residents should be aware of this tick season?

The ticks that cause Lyme disease and several other tick-borne illnesses have expanded into Illinois so people need to be vigilant about checking themselves, their children and their pets for ticks. The incidence of tick-borne illnesses, especially Lyme Disease, in Illinois has increased over 10-fold in the last decade.

Lyme Disease Treatment for Children

Unfortunately, not all victims of Lyme disease display symptoms. For those who suspect they have been bitten, seek medical help as special blood tests are able to confirm the disease. Fortunately, most cases of Lyme disease are curable with antibiotics, especially when the infection is diagnosed early. There is no such thing as chronic Lyme disease, although, there are some people who have Post-Lyme disease treatment syndrome.

Learn more about Lurie Children's Division of Infectious Diseases

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