Labor day is now an afterthought. The white sundresses have been stowed away and the back to school deals are in full swing. Early fall days and beautiful Indian summers are accompanied by the pressure to squeeze in a few extra rays of sunshine on weekend hikes. Although tick bite season may technically be over, now comes its aftermath.
Lyme disease caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacteria that sleeps in the midgut of the tick, is usually diagnosed days to weeks, and sometimes even months after a bite. The bacteria residing in the tick gut “wakes up” and becomes active when it is exposed to warm blood as the tick bites into and feeds on the human host. It travels to the tick’s salivary glands and is secreted when the tick becomes engorged and finishes its blood meal. The idea of a tick feasting on your child is not a reason to panic. It takes roughly 36 hours of feeding after latching on for the tick to become engorged (think fat Uncle Harry after a second helping of pie after a really long Thanksgiving dinner).
Parents who find themselves uncertain about whether a tick has been embedded in a child’s skin for over 36 hours can monitor for rashes or joint pain. Unfortunately these usually crop up one to four weeks later. The scarlet letter of Lyme is the classic rash, termed erythema migraines, which looks like a bull’s eye on a dartboard, or a planet with a surrounding orbital ring that appears about a week after a tick bite. Aches and pains may present up to a month later and are typically the most common symptom in kids. An accompanying milieu of complaints can also include fever, chills, headaches, fatigue, and sensitivity to light known as photophobia. Advanced stages are more complicated, and can manifest in other neurological and even cardiovascular symptoms.
Because Lyme is a result of bacteria that is transmitted through the offending tick, antibiotics are the treatment of choice. Depending on age, amoxicillin and doxycycline will be prescribed by the doctor. The length of treatment also varies with localized disease requiring a much shorter course.