Lyme disease remains a significant danger for adults and children alike. The disorder can affect anyone of any age, and no matter how young or old you are, a Lyme diagnosis is not good news. Unfortunately for the hundreds of thousands of patients across the world, not much is known about this strange and adaptable disease. We know how it’s contracted, and we know how to eradicate it in its early stages. However, this depends on successful diagnosis, something that is not always easy to achieve.
Part of this comes down to lack of patient awareness, part of it down to lack of medical education, and part of it down to the insidious nature of the disease. Diagnosing Lyme early is key to successful treatment. But does the disease always look the same, no matter who contracts it? Or does Lyme present differently in children?
What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is caused by a specific strain of bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, and it’s transmitted exclusively by ticks. Not every tick carries Lyme (not all species of tick are able to), and not every bite will result in bacteria transmission. But a large percentage seemingly do. Contrary to public imagination, ticks can neither fly nor jump. They search for hosts using a technique known as questing, which sees them hang on a blade of grass or bark with their front legs outstretched. Then, they grab onto a passing host as they brush past.
Although humans are not the primary target of ticks, they will happily take a human host if the opportunity presents itself. Once on the body, ticks will crawl to the most sheltered place they can before biting down. This makes them harder to spot, with the paralyzing agent in their saliva compounding the ability to detect them.
Tick Danger Zones
Before looking at how Lyme disease affects children, let’s first take a look at how they might contract it in the first place. Although you can contract Lyme almost anywhere in the U.S. or Europe, the main danger zones are rural areas. Lyme was first discovered and named in Connecticut, and North Eastern America still retains a reputation for high amounts of tick activity.
Anywhere particularly grassy or woody should be considered a potential tick haven; the important thing for ticks is being able to physically touch the skin of their host. The summer months are the most dangerous, but thanks to global warming and tick migration, tick season has been steadily increasing. It pays to be mindful all year round, but especially between the months of April and October. As children play outside a lot in the summer months, this can make them particularly easy targets for questing ticks. Shorts and T-shirts also make the ticks’ job that much simpler, as it gives them more surface area to latch on to.
Lyme Disease in Children
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease in children? And does it present differently for younger people? The first signs of Lyme are known as the acute stage of the disease; fortunately, these are consistent for both adults and children. Soon after contracting the disease, symptoms start to emerge, most often resembling the flu. This can lead to them being easily missed, but in general, they include headaches, a stiff neck, aches and pains, fever, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes. These generalised symptoms often lead to Lyme being misdiagnosed as the flu, or ignored completely. This is a major danger for Lyme patients, especially children, who often suffer minor infections and bounce back relatively quickly.
Fortunately, Lyme also leaves a calling card in its acute stages, one that appears in both children and adults alike. The definitive sign of Lyme is a bullseye rash that spreads out from the site of the bite. If you notice that your child has flu-like symptoms and has also spent time outside, you should absolutely check them thoroughly for this definitive Lyme symptom. If Lyme is caught in the early stages, it can be treated successfully with antibiotics alone.
What To Do If Your Child Has Lyme Disease
If you discover the distinctive rash – a small red circle enclosed by a larger red circle – and your child has recently been somewhere they could have been exposed to ticks, it is pretty safe to assume they have contracted Lyme. In this case, you should get them to doctor as soon as possible. Don’t worry too much, however; if you’re still seeing the rash, the chances are that your child will be completely cured after a round or two of antibiotics.
Like most diseases, Lyme is one you have to catch early. If the acute stage is missed, the chronic form can develop. Chronic Lyme is a nightmare of a disease that many people suffer from silently. Because the symptoms involve a generalised inflammation response as well as infection manifestations, misdiagnosis rates are high. If for some reason you suspect your child might have chronic Lyme, your first step should be to see a Lyme specialist, like BCA-clinic. At this stage, you really need someone who knows a lot about the disease and will be able to definitively tell you whether you are dealing with Lyme or not.
If you’re simply worried about the prospect of your kids catching Lyme when they’re outside, then prevention is the best form of treatment. Make sure they wear high socks or full trousers (if the weather allows) when they go outside, and check them thoroughly for tick bites when they come back indoors. During the summer, keep a close eye on your children, and if they seem to be flagging from flu-like symptoms, check their bodies for the tell-tale bullseye rash.