Lyme disease is on the rise—especially among kids between 5 and 14 who spend lots of time outdoors. Lesley Ann Fein, M.D., coauthor of Beating Lyme: Understanding and Treating This Complex and Often Misdiagnosed Disease, has these guidelines for protecting your child from the ticks that carry Lyme disease—and from developing a full-blown infection if she gets bitten anyway.
Ticks thrive in forests, marshes, and tall grass, so if you're spending time in those areas, dress your child in a long-sleeved shirt and long pants; tuck the cuffs into her socks for maximum protection. Have her wear light-colored clothing to make it easier to spot ticks. Spritz her with a bug repellent that's no more than 10 percent DEET.
Detach ticks properly
After your kid comes inside, look her over thoroughly—especially her scalp, behind her ears, her neck, under her arms, and her groin. If you see a tick that doesn't brush off easily, you'll need to remove it. With a pair of tweezers, grasp the tick firmly at its head (close to the skin); pull it straight out, gently and firmly. If you're not comfortable doing this, have your doctor do it. "You could inadvertently infect your child if you leave the tick's head under your child's skin," says Dr. Fein.
Save the evidence
Put the tick in a plastic bag and take it to the doctor to be tested for Lyme. If it's a deer tick, ask about starting your child on antibiotics right away, instead of waiting for the results.
Watch for symptoms
The hallmark of Lyme disease is a rash with a red spot in the center (like a bull's-eye) that appears within the first two weeks of a tick bite. Other symptoms include low-grade fever, lethargy, headache, neck stiffness, and nausea. If your child develops any of these, call the doctor.