Tick-borne diseases do exist, but they’re rare

Bullitt County toddler has Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but infectious disease specialists say tick-borne illnesses are uncommon in children.

A Bullitt County toddler is making national headlines after being hospitalized due to Rocky Mountain spotted fever. And while the disease, which is spread by tick bites, does occur in Kentucky, doctors say tick-borne illness are relatively uncommon in children.

“Ticks and tick bites are common here, but fortunately most ticks do not carry diseases and most tick exposures do not result in infections,” said Kristina A. Bryant, M.D., pediatric infectious disease specialist with Norton Children’s Hospital and the University of Louisville. “In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not recommend routinely giving preventive antibiotics to people who’ve had tick bites. Antibiotics are only necessary if they’re displaying symptoms.”

Doctors encourage taking measures to prevent tick bites, like wearing long clothing outdoors and using repellants containing DEET or another approved tick repellent. After children play outside, parents should check their skin and clothing for ticks. Prompt removal lessens the chances for infection.

“In most cases, a tick that has been attached to the skin for less than 20 hours is unlikely to transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever,” Dr. Bryant said. “So if the tick is crawling around on your child, there’s very little chance for infection.”

Even if you find a tick in your child’s skin, Mark A. Brockman Jr., M.D., pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Group – Iroquois, said to be vigilant, but not panic.

“You should remove the tick and watch for signs of illness such as fever, headache, nausea, rash or sensitivity to light,” Dr. Brockman said. “If these conditions occur, take them to their pediatrician immediately.”


Norton Children’s Medical Group

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How to remove a tick

  1. Get the tweezers as close to the head of the tick as possible.
  2. Pull directly up and away from the skin to remove the tick. If you have a tight hold of it, it should come out intact, including the head. Do not pull the body of the tick, because squeezing the body can allow the tick to regurgitate the contents back into the bite, possibly causing infection. It also increases the chance the head will detach and stay imbedded in the skin.
  3. If sections of the mouthparts of the tick remain in the skin, they should be left alone. They normally will be expelled naturally.
  4. Wash the affected area with warm soap and water once you have removed the tick
  5. Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.

Not all repellants are created equal

Dr. Bryant said repellents aren’t all the same. The Environmental Protection Agency has a tool to determine which repellent is best for you and your child. She also cautioned not to use repellents on babies younger than 2 months and no products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD on children under 3 years.

“Always follow the products instructions, especially with children,” she said.