Children & Lyme

According to the CDC, children ages 5 to 19 years of age face the highest risk of contracting Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections, with the rate at about three times that of any other group. This risk is likely due to the amount of time children spend playing outdoors, and a lack of awareness of the importance of finding and removing ticks.

While children experience the same range of symptoms as adults, they often do not have the capacity to express and understand what they are feeling. Parents and doctors often dismiss non-specific symptoms of headaches, fatigue, gastrointestinal issues, and behavioral changes as part of growing up. Such dismissal often leads to delayed diagnosis, thereby allowing dissemination of the infection and consequent long-term illness. Preventing tick bites on children is extremely important. Therefore, it is essential to educate ourselves about the infection, its symptoms, and available treatments.


To insure the child’s health, tick checks should become a regular part of the outdoor activity, particularly when coming in from outdoors. The caretaker should diligently search for ticks on a child. If found, it is essential that, once properly removed, the tick(s) be tested in a laboratory capable of specifying the type of tick and which infections, if any, each may carry. Tick testing can facilitate a correct diagnosis and immediate treatment when needed.

The following steps are recommended to prevent tick bites in children:

  • Use a 10-30% DEET-based insect repellent for skin and a 0.5% permethrin repellent for clothing. On children, use a repellent that is age appropriate. Before using, check with a physician if the child is under the age of one.
  • Conduct frequent and thorough tick checks on yourself, your children and your pets.
  • Dress children in light colored clothing that covers their arms and legs. Tuck their pants into their socks.
  • Have children avoid playing in tick-infested areas, such as tall grass and dense vegetation.
  • Control ticks around your home by eliminating bird feeders and living places of small rodents.
  • Pets can carry ticks inside from outdoors and expose the family. Brush your dog or cat after they come in from outside. Talk with your veterinarian about the numerous products and medications available to protect your pet from ticks.
  • Shower after all outdoor activities.
  • If you find a tick attached to a child, remove it by using fine-tipped tweezers and place it a zip lock bag for testing. You can find a list of labs that perform this testing here.

For more specifics on insect repellents for skin and clothing, visit What to Use for Tick Repellent |


Diagnosis of children with Lyme disease is a difficult challenge. Initial symptoms are non-specific, including headaches, fatigue and stomach problems. Such ailments are attributable to many conditions. Joint pain may be dismissed as growing pains, mood swings as typical adolescent behavior, and behavioral changes as simply a normal part of growing up. Too often, however, it is not until these symptoms cause serious debilitation, resulting in problematic school absences and tardiness, that the real cause is even sought. Sadly, delayed diagnosis, can allow dissemination of the infection and consequent long-term illness.


A child infected with Lyme and other tick-borne diseases is dependent on the parent to navigate the journey through diagnosis and treatment to wellness. Antibiotic treatment as soon as Lyme disease is even suspected may be the physician’s first response. If co-infections exist and are persistent, a Lyme specialist may offer various regimes that address the complexity of the infections. The good news is that many children treated early and aggressively experience a greater return to health than many adult patients. Youthful resilience may play a role in this increased ability to conquer symptoms.

Parents of children with Lyme disease often stretch to the limit their resources of time, energy and money to help their children. Their tenacity and sacrifices enable a life of independence and attainable goals for their children.

To best care for your child:

  • Keep a record of doctor visits, including doctor’s notes, test results and diagnosis. Obtain copies of these documents when possible.
  • Be prepared to share this information as you visit each doctor. Most examinations are too short to adequately evaluate a complex illness. Having this information saves a lot of time, and can reveal a more complete picture.
  • If illness is chronic, work with the school staff to develop a plan that accommodates your child’s needs.
Activities to enhance life during treatment

In cases where Lyme disease has been misdiagnosed or ineffectively treated, there may be long-term impact on a child’s physical and social functioning, as well as on intellectual development. Deficits in attention and memory lead to inconsistent school attendance and performance. According to a NatCapLyme survey[1], 45 percent of parents of children with Lyme disease report that their children missed school more than one day a week, and 42 percent reported that their children were tardy more than once a week.

Adolescents present special diagnostic and treatment challenges, since their new-found desire for privacy, normalcy and independence may prevent full-body tick checks by parents and compliance with keeping doctor appointments and taking prescribed medications. Lyme symptoms such as fatigue, slurred speech, and confusion, can be misinterpreted as the consequence of illegal drug or alcohol use. Sadly, some teenagers do turn to street drugs and alcohol to self-medicate unmanaged neurologic and rheumatologic pain.

Relationships with friends and family become strained for some young people with Lyme disease. Some children are confined at home by their illness. They cease participating in normal activities, such as athletics, hobbies and dating. Persistent illness affects a young person’s ability to participate in normal rites of passage and subsequently affects his or her life. Parents and daily caregivers are the first line of defense and support for these youngsters.

Understanding and acknowledging their limitations, aspirations, fears, and physical struggles can help them feel less isolated. Many parents have formed support groups in which they exchange strategies and techniques to help one another provide the tremendous encouragement, protection, and the mental, spiritual, and physical aid required for their child to return to a healthy, normal childhood.



[1] NatCapLyme online survey of 1,438 respondents, conducted during July 2010.


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