Kids love to be out and about in nature- as they should! 

But certain times of year are also prime time for ticks. And many, like the deer tick, carry diseases. (In fact, the first-ever case of Lyme disease was found in Connecticut.)

Before your family hits the trail, or enjoys a camping trip or picnic in the park, check out this Q&A with Connecticut Children's head of Primary Care, Catherine Wiley, MD.

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When is tick season in New England?

  • Basically, it’s tick season any time the temperature is above freezing. But ticks are most active in late spring and early summer, and again in October and November.
  • Unless it’s a very dry and bitter winter, some ticks even survive year-round. It’s rare to find a tick on you in December, January or February, but it’s not impossible.

Where do kids usually come in contact with ticks?

Ticks live in grassy, brushy, or wooded areas. Think: trails, parks, rock walls, and long grass. They also thrive in leaf piles.

  • So your child is most likely to come in contact with ticks while playing in or around wooded areas, in grass that’s more than 5 or 6 inches tall, and around lawn cuttings or leaf piles. (By contrast, open spaces with frequently mowed grass, like sports fields, are lower risk.)
  • Ticks can also live on animals including deer, other wildlife and pets. This is one way they might hitch a ride into your yard or home, even if you’re not close to woodland.

What should my child wear to protect against ticks?

While ticks can’t fly or jump, they do dangle off branches, leaves and animals, and easily latch onto anything that brushes against them. The right clothing keeps ticks from reaching your child’s skin.

When your child is playing in wooded or risky areas, use these clothing tips.

  • Long-sleeved shirt, light-colored
  • Long pants, light-colored
  • Long socks pulled up, with pant legs tucked into them
  • Closed-toe shoes like sneakers or boots
  • Hat, if they’ll be around low branches

Light-colored clothing makes it easier to spot ticks crawling on fabric, and tucking pants into socks keeps ticks from getting at your child’s ankles.

If your child will be hiking or playing in an area where low branches might brush against their head, they should wear a hat and tuck away long hair to prevent ticks from getting onto their hair and scalp.

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Not all ticks carry diseases and most children who are bitten by a tick will not get sick.  It is quite uncommon for a single tick bite to cause disease, even in high risks areas.

Catherine Wiley, MD,
Primary Care, Connecticut Children's

What’s the best tick repellent for kids?

DEET is the most effective ingredient to prevent ticks, and it’s safe for kids aged 2 months and older. Look for a product where DEET is listed as 10 to 30 percent of the active ingredient.

  • The DEET percentage affects how long the product gives protection. Use 20-30% DEET. 30% DEET lasts about 6 hours.
  • Don’t apply more than once in a day.
  • Avoid products that combine sunscreen with bug repellent. You’ll want to be able to reapply sunscreen frequently and separately, without reapplying DEET.
  • Permethrin products also repel ticks. Permethrin can be sprayed on socks and shoes, pant legs and hats. Do not spray permethrin directly on the skin.

If your child is younger than 2 months, do not use any insect repellent. Rely on other tick prevention methods, like appropriate clothing and a tick check.

What if I want to use a natural bug repellent that doesn’t contain DEET?

Read the label carefully. Some products, like oil of lemon or eucalyptus, contain chemicals that aren’t recommended for children younger than 3 years old.

What’s the best way to apply tick repellent?

You should always follow the label’s specific directions. In general, apply insect repellent to:

  • Exposed skin except face and hands
  • Clothing
  • Socks
  • Shoes

Do NOT apply bug repellent to:

  • Face
  • Hands
  • Areas underneath clothing
  • Cuts or irritated skin

After your child comes indoors, make sure their clothes go right in the dirty laundry to be washed with soap and warm or hot water. That rinses off the bug repellent, and kills any ticks that might be hiding in the fabric. Ten minutes in the dryer will also kill ticks on clothing.

How can I protect my yard from ticks?

Set up a “tick-safe zone” for your child’s play area.

  • Pick a spot without any shrubs, bushes, tall grasses or other plants where ticks can hide, and keep it clear of leaf litter.
  • If your yard is on the edge of a wooded area, consider laying down several feet of dry mulch as a border.
  • If you have grass, mow more frequently to keep it short (under 5 inches).
  • Pesticides and natural tick repellants can be applied to your yard to reduce the tick population, but don’t rely on them to prevent tick bites. These products also have safety and environmental impacts you may want to consider carefully before deciding to treat your yard.

How do I do a tick check on my child?

As soon as your child comes indoors, check carefully for ticks. (The same goes for all family members and pets.) Ideally, have them hop in the shower or bath right away, and definitely within two hours. That makes a tick check easy, and may wash off any unattached ticks.

Check the entire body, especially:

  • In hair
  • Along hairline
  • In and around ears
  • Arm pits
  • Inside belly button
  • Around the waist
  • Between legs
  • Behind the knees

Check your pets, too! Pets can get sick from tick bites, and they can carry ticks into your home.

What should I do if I find a tick attached to my child?

Remove the tick as quickly as possible.

  • Use clean tweezers to grab the tick as close to the skin as you can.
  • Steadily pull the tweezers upward to remove the tick. Try not to make a twisting or jerking motion.
  • If part of the tick breaks off in the skin, use clean tweezers to try to remove it. If you can’t remove it, just leave it.
  • If the tick is too small to grasp with tweezers, you may need to scrape it off using the edge of a credit card.
  • Clean the bite area and your hands using soap and water or rubbing alcohol.
  • Get rid of the tick by flushing it down the toilet, or tape or seal it in a bag or container and throw it away.

Should I use heat, nail polish or petroleum jelly to try to detach the tick?

No. The most important thing is to remove the tick quickly, and the best way to do that is with tweezers.

Should I save the tick to get it tested?

No need! Those test results are often unreliable and misleading.

Do I need to call a doctor if I find a tick crawling on my child, but it’s not attached?

No. A tick has to be attached to spread germs, a process that can take anywhere from hours to days. For example, your child’s risk of Lyme disease is very low if a tick hasn’t been attached for at least 36 hours.

But be sure to safely get rid of the tick (see above), and do a careful tick check to make sure there are no other ticks on your child.

What are the symptoms of tick-borne illness in children?

Not all ticks carry diseases and most children who are bitten by a tick will not get sick.  It is quite uncommon for a single tick bite to cause disease, even in high risks areas.

Symptoms of tick-borne illness may include: 

  • Rash, including “bull’s eye” around bite area
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Body ache
  • Joint swelling and pain

Keep in mind that fever, headache and body aches can also be signs of other common illnesses– so any time your child experiences one of these, you should keep them home from school and call their doctor.

For more information about when to call the doctor, head over to this guide from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

If my child gets sick from a tick bite, what is the treatment?

Most of the time, just a short course of antibiotics.

Any other advice?

If you take precautions before your child goes outside, and get in the habit of daily tick checks when they’re back indoors, their risk of getting sick from a tick is actually very low! It just takes some planning.

Enjoy the great outdoors!

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