I am a Pediatrician living in Holmdel, and the Chair of Pediatrics at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. Each week i will write about an important topic in child health. I would also encourage questions or requests for topics from the Patch audience.
Prevention of Lyme Disease
Lyme Disease is ever in our minds each Spring and summer. I will write about the actual disease next week, but want to focus on primary and secondary prevention. Primary means preventing the tick from biting your child; secondary means preventing the bitten child from coming down with Lyme Disease.
First a little about Lyme Disease in nature. The bacteria is Borrelia Burgdorfrei and it infects the deer tick, Ixodes Scapularis. The deer tick is very tiny and easy to miss. The deer tick live for two years and have three stages of life, the larval stage, the nymph stage and the adult stage. The larva are born without the infection but pick it up their first year by biting small mammals like chipmunks and mice and also birds that carry the bacteria. Then the young ticks rest for a year before maturing into adult ticks.
So one method in small areas is to keep the lawn well mowed, raked and remove leaf debris by blowing, etc. This reduces the tick burden by 80 to 90% in your own area.
You can protect your children from getting bitten by having them wear light colored clothing, by wearing long pants in wooded areas with the pants tucked into the socks.
DEET is very good at keeping the ticks away and can last for up to 12 hours. Another effective methods is to use permithrin, used for treating lice. Soak the child's clothes in a mixture of permithrin and water for 3 to 4 hours and then dry. The clothes will keep the ticks away and can hold up the protection even after multiple washing, and there is no transmission of the chemical to the child's skin.
Other compounds such as garlic, citronella, eucaplytus oil are far less effective than DEET.
The other primary preventive method is to have daily total body inspection each day. Even if your child is bitten, it takes 36 hours for the bite to release the bacteria into the body. Just remove any tick seen each day; that is extremely protective.
If a tick is found after the 36 hour period, many physicians recommend secondary prevention, a one time dose of antibiotics even before any symptoms of Lyme Disease appears. This is not 100% effective, but studies show that it does help. You can also inspect the tick site daily and start antibiotics as soon as a rash appears at the site. Not all Lyme Disease, however, has the classic Lyme rash.