Outdoor activities with the family are an absolute must during the warmer months, and the (very valid) worry about ticks should not stand in the way of summer fun. Ticks carry diseases, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. But, as is often the case with bug-related illnesses, prevention is the key to avoiding tick-related problems. Here are the simple steps you can take to protect your family while enjoying nature.
Ask a Pediatrician: I’m Worried About My Children Getting Bitten By Ticks. What Should I Do?
Tick season is typically April to September, but many regions can see ticks out in the wild all year round. These pesky bugs love to hide in tall or unkempt grass, weeds, shady shrubs and piles of wood. Educating your children about ticks can be helpful in helping them avoid high risk areas and be aware of the threat of ticks. Check out this kid-friendly resource!
It’s worth it to take action to prevent a tick bite rather than deal with one after the fact. Here are some things you can do before venturing outside:
- Apply insect repellent with EPA approved active ingredients such as DEET or Picaridin.
- Wear long sleeves, pants, socks and shoes while out in wooded areas. If possible, tuck pants into socks. Yes, very stylish, I know, but so worth it!
- Steer clear of long grass—ticks hang out in all grassy areas and leaf litter.
- After going out: Wash clothes in hot water after a nature outing to kill any ticks that might have hidden in the folds. Throwing clothes in a dryer will also do the trick as ticks are very sensitive to desiccation.
According to the CDC, the “risk for Lyme disease is very low if a tick has been attached for fewer than 24 hours.” If you and your family are regularly enjoying the outdoors during the summer months, get in the habit of doing tick checks to catch potential bites within that 24-hour window and after every outing. Make sure to look in small crevices, such as behind the ear or in the armpits.
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Immediate Response and Aftercare
Remove the Tick, Slowly
If you or a family member does come home with a tick on their body, the one thing not to do is panic. Despite the many concerning stories out there about ticks, a knowledgeable and swift response really helps to prevent harm from occurring, so let’s make sure you’ve got the steps right for how to handle this situation.
If you find a tick on your child’s body, grasp it as close to the skin as possible with fine-tipped tweezers or a tissue covering your fingers rather than bare hands, and pull it up firmly and slowly. Do not twist or jerk the tick off—this could cause small parts of it to get stuck in the skin. If the tick appears to be engorged, do not squeeze it, as this could force harmful fluids from the tick into the person.
There are some touted techniques out there, suggesting burning the tick or smothering it in oil or petroleum jelly to remove it. I suggest avoiding these methods as they often will not be effective and may do more harm than good. Instead, follow the CDC recommendations for tick removal.
Clean the Area and Watch for Redness
Once removed, clean your hands with soap and water and wipe the area of the child’s skin where the tick was found with soapy water. You can also put some antibiotic ointment to prevent infection. Keep an eye on the area for increasing redness. If your child develops fever or rash within the next 30 days or has any other concerns, get them checked out by their healthcare professional.
If you’re feeling unsure about the whole process, check out this handy tool provided by the Centers for Disease Control: Tick Bite Bot. This is an online interactive program that helps you remove ticks and determine if you need medical attention afterwards.
If you find a tick on your child, and you can’t figure out how long it’s been there, remove the tick as described above and keep monitoring the child for signs of fever or rash. Inform your pediatrician about the incident, follow their guidance, and be ready to take action if necessary. In some areas known to have a large tick population where many carry the germ that causes Lyme disease, a preventive dose of antibiotics may be prescribed at the time of tick discovery. Some regions also offer tick identification, where you can put the tick into a plastic bag and take it to a health department or other designated agency for testing and identification, although one should never delay treatment pending identification if suspicion is sufficiently high.
It’s true that tick-related concerns have been increasingly prevalent in the last decade or so. A lot of these statistics are caused by more public health awareness in relation to ticks, which is great. However, climate change (warmer temperatures and shorter winters) is also a contributing factor. And because of this, it is very important to stay vigilant and educate ourselves and our families about ticks and the diseases they may carry.