That’s usually what comes to mind when people find a tick on their child or if they simply think about tick-borne diseases.
It is important to know that there are many other diseases that can be caused by many different types of ticks though, from anaplasmosis to tularemia. And since these ticks and the diseases they transmit are fairly regional, it is easy to be unfamiliar with them if you don’t live in their specific habitats.
That can especially be a problem if, for example, you are from Hawaii, where tick-borne diseases aren’t a big issue, and you travel for a camping trip to Oklahoma and your child is bitten by a tick. Will you or your doctor know what to do if your child develops symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever?
How To Remove a Tick
Fortunately, if you find a tick on your child, you can decrease their chance of getting sick if you remove it quickly. That makes doing daily full body tick checks important.
At least 36 hours.
“Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.”
CDC on Preventing Tick Bites
After removing the tick, wash the bite area and your hands with soap and water and observe your child over the next few weeks for symptoms of a tick-borne disease.
Symptoms of a Tick Bite
Although some of the symptoms of tick-borne diseases are specific to the tick that bit your child, some other symptoms are common to all of them, including:
- muscle aches and joint pains
- skin rashes
Like spider bites, tick bites are usually painless. That often leads to a delay in actually figuring out that a tick has bitten your child, which makes it important to do frequent tick checks if they are doing anything that could expose them to ticks.
Many people are also surprised at how many different diseases can be transmitted by ticks, including:
- Anaplasmosis – transmitted by the black-legged tick (northeast and upper midwestern United States) and the western black-legged tick (Northern California). May not cause a rash.
- Babesiosis – transmitted by the black-legged tick (northeast and upper midwestern United States). Can cause severe hemolytic anemia.
- Colorado Tick Fever – a viral infection that is transmitted by the Rocky Mountain wood tick (western United States, especially Colorado, Utah, Montana, and Wyoming). Can cause meningoencephalitis.
- Ehrilichiosis – transmitted by the lone star tick in southcentral and eastern US.
- Lyme disease – transmitted by the blacklegged in the northeastern U.S. and upper midwestern U.S. and the western blacklegged tick along the Pacific coast. Erythema migrans rash or Bull’s eye rash.
- Powassan disease – a viral infection that is transmitted by the black-legged tick (northeastern United States and the Great Lakes region). Can cause biphasic illness, with children appearing to get better and then the symptoms reappearing again.
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever – transmitted by the American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, and the brown dog tick in the U.S. Causing a classic petechial rash on the wrists, forearms, and ankles, which can then spread to the trunk.
- Rickettsia parkeri Rickettsiosis – transmitted by the Gulf Coast tick in the eastern and southern United States.
- STARI (Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness) – “transmitted” by the lone star tick (central Texas and Oklahoma eastward to the the whole Atlantic coast). Children have an expanding “bull’s eye” lesion at the tick bite, like Lyme disease, but the cause is unknown.
- Tickborne relapsing fever (TBRF) – spread by multiple soft ticks in the western United States which live in rodent infested cabins and can cause relapsing fever – 3 day episodes of fever, in between 7 days stretches in which a child might be fever free, over 3 to 4 weeks.
- Tularemia – transmitted by dog ticks, wood ticks, and lone star ticks or by handling a sick animal, including wild rabbits, muskrats, prairie dogs, and domestic cats. Can cause an ulcer at the site of infection.
- 364D Rickettsiosis – transmitted by the Pacific Coast tick in Northern California dn along the Pacific Coast.
And although it can be helpful to know about all of the different tick-borne diseases and their symptoms, you should basically just know to seek medical attention if your child gets sick in the few weeks following a tick bite.
What to Know About Ticks and Tick Bites
Of course, it would be even better to reduce your child’s risk of getting a tick-borne disease by avoiding ticks in first place, including limiting his exposure to grassy and wooden areas, wearing protective clothing, using insect repellent, treating your dogs for ticks, taking a shower within two hours of possibly being exposed to ticks, and doing frequent tick checks.
In addition to avoiding ticks, it is important to know that:
Tick activity is seasonal, with adult ticks most active in spring and fall, and the smaller nymphal ticks more active in late spring and summer.
- Tick bites that lead to tick-borne diseases are often not noticed because they are usually painless and are often caused by nymphs, the immature, smaller forms of a tick. So while you might be thinking about a large, adult tick when you are asked about a recent tick bite, a nymph is tiny (about 2mm long) and might even be missed.
- Testing (on your child), including antibody tests, can be done to confirm a diagnosis of most tick-borne diseases, but keep in mind that testing can be negative early on. You also shouldn’t wait for results before starting treatment in a child with a suspected tick-borne disease. Testing is usually done with either indirect immunofluorescence antibody (IFA) assay or enzyme immunoassay (EIA) tests.
- It is usually not recommended that you have a tick that has bitten your child be tested for tick-borne diseases. Even if the tick was positive for something, it wouldn’t mean that it transmitted the disease to your child.
- Experts don’t usually recommend that people be treated for tick-borne diseases after a tick bite unless they show symptoms. The only exception might be if the tick was on for more than 36 hours and you were in an area with a high risk for Lyme disease.
- Although doxycycline, one of the antibiotics often used to treat tick-borne diseases, is often restricted to children who are at least 8 years old because of the risk of side effects, it should still be used if your younger child has Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, or anaplasmosis.
You should also know that most old wives tales about ticks and tick bites really aren’t true. You should not try to burn a tick that is biting your child with a match, paint it with nail polish, or smother it with vaseline, etc. Just remove it with tweezers and throw it away in a sealed bag or by flushing it down the toilet.
What to Do If a Tick Bites Your Child
Don’t panic if a tick bites your child. You have up to 36 hours to remove it, before it is can likely transmit any diseases to your child, like Lyme disease or Rocky mountain spotted fever.
More About Ticks and Tick Bites
- CDC – Ticks
- FDA – Protect Yourself Against Tick-Borne Disease
- Be Tick Smart
- CDC – Symptoms of Tickborne Illness
- Doxycycline for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: Safe for All Ages
- NIH – Tickborne Disease-Specific Research
- NIH – Tick Talk: Block Tick Bites and Lyme Disease
- What do Deer Ticks & Other Ticks Look Like?
- Tick-Borne Disease FAQ
- Myths About Lyme Disease
- Information on Submitting Ticks
- tick ID card
- Tick Identification Lab
- Lyme disease ticks in Texas
- It’s Past Time For Lyme Disease Vaccine, Says Vaccine Developer
- Lyme disease vaccine – good for dogs but not for humans
Last Updated on July 26, 2017 by Vincent Iannelli, MD