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Avoiding Lyme Disease
Q: Our family often goes camping over the summer. How can I protect my kids from getting Lyme disease?
A: There are some things you can do to protect against exposure to Lyme disease, which is caused by a germ (spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi) that is spread through the bite of a deer tick. Certain areas of the United States report more Lyme disease than others. Not all deer ticks carry the germ; in fact, a majority of them don't. The local health department can give you information about the risk where you live.
Although it makes sense to avoid areas where Lyme disease is most common, this is not always possible or practical. Try to dress your kids in protective clothing, use insect repellents, and do daily "tick checks." Choose light-colored clothing, so you can see the ticks more easily. Wear long pants and tuck the pants into socks to decrease exposure. You can carefully use DEET (10 percent concentration for children) on the skin, but wash it off well with soap and water when you come indoors. When you walk in the woods, try to stay in the center of the trails.
Be sure to look for ticks on your children from head to toe every day. Remember that for a deer tick to even transmit the spirochete, it usually requires the tick to be attached to the skin for at least 24 to 48 hours. When you do "tick checks" everyday, the chances of getting the disease are greatly decreased. Once you do find a tick (and they are quite small), it should be removed carefully. Applying Vaseline, nail polish, alcohol, or hot matches to the skin are neither helpful nor appropriate ways to do it. Use tweezers with gloved hands to gently pull the tick straight out without twisting or squeezing the body. Finally, clean the site after the tick is removed.
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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.