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Ticked off



Expert tips: Protect your family from ticks and Lyme disease


Imagine your 4-year-old pulling a tick off herself. Very scary, right? Many of have been there, and this happened to me, too. For some reason, my youngest daughter is a tick magnet! It happens so much, she pulls them off without flinching.

However, she has never developed the classic bull’s eye rash. She never got a fever. She never complained of joint pain, headaches or any of the other common symptoms associated with Lyme disease. So we thought we were in the clear. That year at her annual exam, I asked my pediatrician to add the tick borne illnesses to the standard blood test that they give. Guess what? Her labs lit up like a Christmas tree! Yup. She had Lyme! And not one symptom!

Lyme disease and the other tick borne diseases — Babesiosis and Anaplasmosis (sometimes mistakenly identified as Ehrlichiosis) — are very prevalent here in the Hudson Valley. They all usually surface with similar symptoms: a bull’s eye rash, fever, chills, fatigue, and muscle pain or soreness. However, as in my daughter’s case, there were absolutely no symptoms. So do not assume that no symptoms = no disease.

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Dr. Richard Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute in Millbrook, has been studying the black-legged tick here in the Hudson Valley for years.

Ostfeld’s research has shown that climate change over the past 20 years in the Hudson Valley has resulted in ticks peaking earlier than we previously thought.

“The black-legged tick used to peak early-mid June,” he says. “Now it is peaking mid-late May and we project that in 20 years or so they will peak in early May.”

READ MORE: Natural tick repellents for your pets

Babesia and Lyme are the most common pair found in ticks in the Hudson Valley, according to Ostfeld, not Ehrlichiosis. He adds that it is possible for a tick to be infected with more than one disease and to transmit more than one disease.

Ostfeld suggests that health practitioners and families be aware of this and should be testing for more than just Lyme, since they each have specific treatments.

Somer DelSignore, MSN, a certified nurse practitioner with Bambini Pediatrics in Poughkeepsie, specializes in infectious diseases. She estimates she is seeing up to 12 cases of Lyme disease per day.

“What’s shocking is that these kids are presenting with symptoms of ADHD, anxiety and Autism, not the typical symptoms of joint pain and fevers,” she says.

READ MORE: The correct way to remove a tick

DelSignore says new research is showing that mothers who are infected can pass the disease on to their babies in utero. She suggests that if you have a child with some of these difficulties, testing for tick borne illnesses should be a part of the diagnostic process. 

What to do if you suspect your child has a tick borne illness
If you suspect your child has been bitten by a tick, or you find a tick on them, time is of the essence. Remove the tick and follow up with your pediatrician. If symptoms arise or you suspect your child may have contacted a tick borne illness, have him or her tested six to eight weeks following the incident.

Get tested for all three types of common tick borne illness in the Hudson Valley: Babesia, Anaplasma and Lyme. The Centers for Disease Control does not recommend testing the actual tick, because even if the tick is infected, it does not mean it passed the infection on to you. However, you can call the Dutchess County or Ulster County Health Departments to find out more information on getting the tick tested.

READ MORE: Tips to minimize the risk of Lyme Disease

My child tested positive, or didn’t but has symptoms! Now what?
When our daughter tested positive, I was scared and upset. I knew that she was bitten months ago and was afraid of what that meant. Our pediatrician put her on amoxicillin for three weeks. We tested her after the antibiotic treatment and it was successful in getting rid of her Lyme. However the test is only about 60 percent effective. DelSignore says that when she is treating Lyme disease, “the treatment is based on symptoms instead of test results.”

If you or your child tests positive, there are several different treatment options available. Traditional medicine usually prescribes antibiotics. These can be very effective in eradicating some of the diseases, but not Babesia.

“Babesia is a parasite and does not respond to antibiotics,” says Ostfeld. In that case, an entirely different treatment would be necessary.

Something else to consider is that there are many side effects that can go along with these medications. Some of those side effects can include fever, headache, diarrhea, hives, itching, swelling, and more. There are also allergies to take into consideration. Many people are allergic to antibiotics and other medications.

READ MORE: Make your own tick spray

DelSignore uses a variety of approaches that include antibiotics, decreasing inflammation and boosting the immune system.

“We rely heavily on homeopathics to help the immune system take over and fight the disease,” she says.

How to protect your family
Prevention is the best way to protect your family from tick borne illness. Wearing long pants tucked into your socks, long sleeves, and a hat when outdoors is important — especially if you are headed into the woods or high grassy areas. Wear light colored clothing so ticks are easily seen.

Tick-proofing your yard is another great method. Always do a tick check on yourself and your pets, especially after being outside.

READ MORE: Tips for effectively checking for ticks

Insect repellants are another way to prevent tick bites. DelSignore suggests using repellants that are made from natural ingredients like dandelion and citrus, rather than DEET.

If you find a tick, remove it as fast as possible.

Even though Lyme and other tick borne illnesses are prevalent here in the Hudson Valley, we can still go outside and enjoy all that this area has to offer. By educating ourselves, taking some simple precautions, and being aware, we can keep our families safe while still having fun outdoors. 

Kelly Auriemmo is a mom, blogger, and special education teacher who lives in Poughkeepsie.