End Your Summer Bite-Free

Labor Day may mark the end of summer, but there’s still time for tick bites unless families take precautions. 

The end of summer and beginning of fall are a great time for outdoor activities, but that means keeping company with outdoor pests, including those creepy, crawly external parasites known as ticks. Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, tularemia and Lyme Disease are common tick-borne illnesses in the Midwest. They can affect kids and adults, although some may have a more potent effect on kids.

Tick bites can lead to rashes, fevers, chills, aches and pains with a severity and duration ranging from mild to serious. Recently, two cases of a new tick-borne illness, the Heartland Virus, made headlines. The virus is characterized by low white blood cell counts, fever, chills and diarrhea.

“The risk of acquiring a tick-borne illness really depends on what type of tick bit you and how long it was attached,” said Mercy Clinic pediatrician Marissa Stock, MD. “If a rash develops at the site where the tick was, or you get a fever in the days or weeks after a tick bite, you should see a doctor.”

Dr. Stock recommends that families take precautions to avoid tick bites. “You can reduce your chances of getting a tick-borne illness by using repellents, checking yourself and your little ones for ticks and showering after being outdoors,” she said. 

These recommendations are from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Use a repellent with DEET and follow package instructions. Repellents containing 20 percent or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) can protect for several hours. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a product with less than 30 percent DEET on children. Insect repellents are not recommended for children younger than 2 months of age.
  • Do not use products that combine DEET with sunscreen. Using the products together can overexpose a child to DEET and the DEET may make the sun protection factor (SPF) less effective.
  • Use products containing permethrin to kill ticks on clothing and outdoor equipment. Permethrin can be used to treat boots, clothing and camping gear and remains protective through several washings. Permethrin-containing products should not be applied to the skin.
  • After being outside, check clothing for ticks, and run clothing through the dryer on high heat for about an hour to kill any ticks that might have been missed.
  • Take a shower. Showering within two hours after being outside has been shown to reduce risks for Lyme disease and helps wash off unattached ticks.
  • Check for ticks after being outdoors.

“If you find a tick, be careful about how you remove it,” Dr. Stock said. “The best way to remove a tick is to use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible, pull it straight out and then clean the bite area with soap and water.”

People can take additional precautions by keeping yards trimmed, deterring wildlife and using bug sprays as directed. Family pets should be on flea and tick preventatives to keep them from tracking pests into the home.

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