Hot Topics    

Protect your kids from ticks

Could your child be a prime host for ticks?

Last June, at the end of the school year, Melissa Calabro heard her then 5-year-old son, Bernard, moaning in another room. He had been complaining of leg pain and it had gotten so bad that it caused him to miss his preschool graduation.

It was definitely not normal behavior for her otherwise active son, who was always outside, riding dirt bikes and playing with his friends. "That night, me and my husband brought him to the hospital, where he spent 3 days. He tested negative for Lyme," says Calabro, who lives with her husband and 3 children in Wappingers Falls.

Frustrated with the lack of answers, Calabro carried her son in to see his regular pediatrician. Calabro says, "They noticed Bernard still could not walk and suggested I go to the Children's Hospital in Westchester for a second opinion."

Doctors checked for an infection in Bernard's knee and checked for Lyme again. After spending 3 more days in the hospital, he was diagnosed with Lyme. "I never even pulled a tick off of him," says Calabro.  

Poughkeepsie mom Catherine Monteiro's 7-year-old son Jackson had also complained about leg pain before, but this time it was different. This time he was also diagnosed with Lyme disease. "I never pulled a tick off of him or noticed a rash on him," says Monteiro, who lives with her husband, Bob, her son, Jackson, and her older son, Matthew.

READ MORE: How to check your child for ticks

Trouble in a tick hotbed
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. "New York State is a hotbed for tick activity," says Jocelyn Dummett, M.D., a pediatrician with Crystal Run Healthcare in Middletown.

"It's important to do what you can to prevent tick bites," says Anthony D'Ambrosio, a family medicine physician at Health Quest Medical Practice's Fishkill location, who has even found a tick on his child when he was apple picking in the fall. He says, "We see more cases of tick bites in the summer because we are outside more, but you have to be vigilant all year round in making sure that ticks are not on you or your child."

Recently, Richard S. Ostfeld, a senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, stated that this year's hotbed of ticks is going to be really bad, and that is based on a bumper crop of, believe it or not, acorns. A bumper acorn crop leads to an explosion of white-footed mice, which means more hosts for the ticks to grab on to.

"Ticks survive really well when they feed on a mouse compared to other animal hosts so more ticks make it to the nymph stage," says Dr. Ostfeld in a statement by the Cary Institute.

Don’t be scared, be prepared

Monteiro makes sure to check her sons for ticks if they have been playing in the woods or at the baseball field. "I also use a bug repellent on them when we are out," she says.

Dummett says that she loves the fact that kids are playing outside and doesn't want a fear of tick bites and Lyme disease to change that. "We want them outside playing and running," she says. "When they are outside though, keep them away from heavy brush. Ticks cannot fly, but they can certainly jump from a blade of grass to their host. Cover up their legs and tuck pants into socks."

Most importantly, Dummett says that they should shower within two hours of coming in from playing outside. "Then, do a head to toe exam of your child, around the scalp, hairline, arms, waist and the groin, which is areas that they like," she says. "This is where they will feed uninterrupted for the next several days."

If you find a tick on your child, it's very important to remove it properly. The Lyme Disease Association says that improper removal of ticks greatly increases the risk of acquiring tick-borne infections. Instead, you should grab the tick with tweezers - grab the tick close to the skin and pull it straight out.

However, just because you or your children have been bitten by a tick doesn't mean that you are doomed to get Lyme disease. "A tick bites and begins to burrow and feed, but not right away," says Dummett. "Once they stay on you for 36 hours and start sucking your blood, their saliva starts going into you. That's the point when you get the bacteria into your system."

READ MORE: More expert tips on how to protect your family from Lyme disease

Recognize the symptoms
There are a few misunderstandings about Lyme disease. First, you may not always find a tick on you. Secondly, the Lyme disease rash is typically the first sign of infection and is usually a circular rash called erythema migrans (EM).

"However, 10 to 15 percent of patients present without a rash," says D'Ambrosio.

Other symptoms include fever, body aches and flu-like illness, the most common presentation.

"Also remember that Lyme disease can present with no symptoms and then there's also Lyme disease with facial palsy on one side of the face," says Dummett. "Lyme can also cause arthritis and even meningitis."

D'Ambrosio also admits that when children, like Jackson and Bernard, have joint pain it's hard not to think that it is growing pains. "You have to look at the context of their pain," he says. "If they have joint pain once or twice, that's fine, but if it's more repetitive or you've seen a tick, then it's time to ask some specific questions about possible Lyme."

Get the proper treatment

Lyme disease isn't the only tick-borne illness that you need to be concerned about. According to the CDC, ticks carry many illnesses and it all depends on where you get bit and by what tick. "People who travel have to be concerned about, for example, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and that's something you see in the southwest, along the Mexico border," says Dummett.  

A blood test will determine if your child has a tick related disease and, if it comes back positive, your child will be put on a course of treatment. "Lyme disease isn't something to take lightly," says Dummett. "It's serious, but it's also something we can treat with antibiotics. We give children younger than eight years old amoxicillin and children older than eight are given doxycycline." Once the rounds of antibiotics are complete, the virus is eliminated.

READ MORE: Make your own tick repellent

For more information on tick borne illnesses, their symptoms and treatment, visit the Lyme Disease Association website at

Lisa Iannucci has raised three children in the Hudson Valley area and currently resides in Poughkeepsie.