On a hot summer night, my husband and I had just returned from a long, lazy walk with our kids in our neighborhood. As we chatted with some neighbors outside, we sent the kids inside in to have a popsicle and get ready for bed. Our daughter raced up the driveway on her scooter, eager to have a summer treat. She was full of energy and raced her brother to the freezer. Summer perfection personified.
Twenty minutes later, she wasn’t fine.
Far from it, in fact.
She came downstairs, red-faced, flushed, and flu-like. She was scared because the symptoms came on quickly. She felt feverish to the touch and was complaining that a spot on her back hurt badly.
When we looked at her back, we saw a giant red circle on her skin, and we knew. Although we tried to rationalize to ourselves that a spider or mosquito had eaten our child alive, being medical professionals, we both instinctively knew that our summer was going to change. As it was late, we gave her some Benadryl and put her to bed, hoping that, in the morning, summer could go back to normal.
Our summer did not go back to normal.
The next morning, our daughter was diagnosed with Lyme disease.
And the next few months were hell.
Yes, we caught it early. Yes, we were extremely lucky that the disease presented itself in a textbook manner, and yes, we are fortunate to have immediate access to a physician who is knowledgeable about Lyme in this area and who was able to talk me off the ledge when I heard the word in his office.
But for all the things that went right with her diagnosis, the fact remained that our daughter spent her summer recovering from an insidious disease that has robbed me of my enjoyment of the spring and summer months. Although Lyme disease is easily treatable and has a good prognosis, it’s not a “one and done” disease — Lyme disease is a constant threat. And due to an increase of the mice population that feeds the ticks that carry the Lyme bacteria, cases are unfortunately on the rise in the United States.
Because our daughter’s diagnosis caught us so completely by surprise, I did what any other panicked mom would do: I researched the hell out of Lyme disease and its symptoms.
Here’s what I learned:
Lyme disease is transmitted by blacklegged ticks — also known as deer ticks — in the mid-Atlantic states, and by western blacklegged ticks in the Pacific coast area. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Most humans are infected through the bites of immature ticks called nymphs.” Because nymph ticks are less than 2 mm in size, most people report never having seen the actual tick that bit them, as was the case with our daughter. Larger ticks are easier to spot and less likely to infect a human because they have less time to embed into the skin.
Lyme is a bacterial infection that is treated with antibiotics. Your doctor will determine a medication regimen based on your health history, and in most cases, a prescription for a common antibiotic like amoxicillin or doxycycline will do the trick.
A Lyme rash is not raised, does not itch, and is sometimes warm to the touch. Spider bites, mosquito bites, and other insect bites are often itchy and will be a raised welt.
The erythema migrans rash, commonly known as the “bullseye” rash, is formed as the bacteria burrows under the skin and spreads through the tissue, thereby creating the unwanted Target store sign on your skin. But not all Lyme cases present with the classic bullseye on the skin.
When it’s caught early, Lyme is treatable, manageable, and your child will be okay.
As word got out that our daughter was sick, so many people came forward to tell us about their own personal battles with Lyme disease. And since our daughter’s experience, I, too, have tried to calm worried parents when I’ve heard they are going through Lyme treatment. Lyme is serious and requires immediate medical attention, but yes, kids can — and do — make full recoveries.
While Lyme disease isn’t entirely preventable, there are things you can do to help keep those dirty little ticks from ruining your summer. Some tips:
1. Spray your child with bug spray that contains 20% DEET.
Yes, I know no one wants to spray their kids with chemicals. Yes, I know organic readers just dropped dead. I don’t care. DEET kills and repels ticks, and frankly, it’s a lesser evil than 14 straight days or more of pumping chemicals into your kid’s veins to treat Lyme. Get over yourself, and use bug spray with 20% DEET.
2. Check your children head to toe when they come in from playing outside.
Check behind their ears, the nape of their neck, behind their knees. All are places these insidious little buggers like to hide. But keep in mind, the ticks that most often cause Lyme are nymph ticks — those tiny little ones that are very hard to spot.
3. If you find a tick, don’t panic.
Call your doctor for advice on how best to remove the tick, and when to come in for diagnosis and treatment. (And it’s okay if you need to take a shot of vodka before you get the tweezers. No judgment here.)
4. Monitor your kids and their skin.
If you see a strange looking area, get it checked immediately. Lyme is best treated within the first few days of the bite and the chances of a full recovery are much higher.
Our lives changed after our experience with Lyme, not because of lasting health issues (thank god), but because we are much more careful when we spend time outdoors. We don’t go on a hike or into wooded areas without bug spray, and everyone gets a thorough check when we arrive home. And when I see my daughter, frolicking in the grass, the warm sun kissing her face, I know now that Lyme disease is always lurking. But if it happens again, I’ll be ready.