In the spring and summer, you might hear about something called Lyme disease. It
has nothing to do with limes, but it does have something to do with ticks,
those creepy, tiny bugs that like to drink human blood. Disgusting!
Blame Lyme disease on those bloodsuckers because some of them carry around bacteria
called spirochetes (say: SPY-ruh-keets). And if the bacteria get
in a person, they can cause the infection Lyme disease.
The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to prevent tick bites. Let's find out more
about this disease and how to keep those ticks away.
Ticks Want to Suck Your Blood
Ticks feed on mice, dogs, deer, horses, and sometimes people. They have eight legs,
but are so tiny, they might look like a speck of dirt or the head of a pin. You're
most likely to run into them in grassy or wooded areas. In spring and summer, you're
more likely to have a lot of skin exposed (like when you're wearing shorts and a T-shirt),
so it gives ticks a lot of opportunity to get on your skin.
You don't feel anything when the tick first bites you. You probably won't even
know the tick is feeding. After an infected tick bites you, it can release the spirochetes
into you. If the tick has been there a while (more than a day or two), there is a
small chance that you can get Lyme disease.
Feeling Sick With Symptoms
Your doctor is the person who can tell for sure if you have Lyme disease, but here
are two common signs:
feeling tired and achy all over, like you have the flu
developing a red, circular rash (often called a bull's-eye rash) at the site of
the tick bite
The rash may be big — between the size of a quarter and 10 inches (30 centimeters)
across. This rash spreads out over time and is called erythema migrans
(say: er-uh-THEE-muh MY-gruns), or migrating red rash. Later, the rash also can appear
somewhere else on your body, far from the tick bite.
It's important to go to the doctor right away if you or your parent think you might
have Lyme disease. Someone who waits too long — or doesn't realize he or she
was bitten by a tick — might start to feel even worse. In some cases, a person's
face muscles might stop working properly. That means the person wouldn't be able to
smile on that side or close that eye. This is called Bell's palsy, or facial nerve
paralysis (say: puh-RAL-uh-sus). Other people might develop swelling
(puffiness) or pain in their knee or another joint a few months after the tick bite.
Sometimes, people don't have any signs that they are sick with Lyme disease.
Doctor, Doctor, Give Me the News
The bull's-eye rash might be enough for your doctor to decide you have Lyme disease.
Or he or she might decide to test some of your blood to figure out if it's Lyme disease.
If you do have Lyme disease, the doctor will prescribe an antibiotic, a medicine
that kills the spirochetes. You've probably taken antibiotics
before, like when you had an ear infection. You'll have to take the antibiotic every
day, just as your doctor tells you. If you don't, or you stop taking the medicine
too soon, it won't have a chance to kill all the bacteria.
Where the Ticks Are
Some people live in areas where Lyme disease is common. Why? Because a lot of those
nasty ticks live there, too. In the United States, most infected ticks live in the
coastal Northeast (from Maine to Washington, D.C.), in the Pacific Northwest (states
that include Washington, Idaho, and Oregon), and in the upper Midwest (states like
Minnesota and Wisconsin).
Impress your family and friends and tell them these are endemic
(say: en-DEM-ik) areas — areas where infected ticks live.
Fight the Bite
You're not going to move, so what do you do if you live among ticks that cause
Lyme disease? You can take steps to avoid getting bitten. Here's how.
Ticks hang out in wooded, grassy areas, so cover up if you'll be playing in those
areas. If you'll be walking through the woods, wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants,
knee-high socks, and a hat to cover your hair. If it's warm outside, you might not
want to put on so many clothes. Ask your mom or dad to help you choose lightweight,
cool clothes that will still keep you covered. Wearing an insect repellent also might
help. Have your parents apply one that contains 10% to 30% DEET.
June and July are the worst months for ticks. But be aware that you can get a tick
bite anytime between April and October (and during other months on the West Coast).
Even if you follow all the rules, you still could get bitten by a tick. Time for
a tick check! A tick check is when you have your mom or dad look over your body to
see if you have any tick bites. If you've been playing outside in grassy or wooded
areas, it's a good step to take before you bathe or shower.
You can check yourself, too, but you won't be able to see everywhere. Try looking
at the back of your thigh, for instance! Your mom or dad should be sure to check your
armpits, arms, groin, belly button, behind your ears, and behind your knees. Also,
have a parent check your head, too!
If you do have a tick, your mom or dad can remove it with a pair of tweezers. Tweezers
are those two-pronged metal instruments often used to pull out eyebrow hairs or remove
splinters. The best way to do it is to use the tweezers to grab the tick by its head
and pull it out firmly and slowly. Try to be patient if your mom or dad is doing this.
That tick is better out of you than in you!
The tick can be handled with a tissue to avoid spreading the bacteria around. Your
mom or dad might even put it in a sealed container to preserve it so it can be
tested for Lyme disease. That's one less tick out there to bite someone. Goodbye,