American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis)

These days warmer weather allows for lighter clothes and more outdoor playtime, but the great outdoors can bite back if parents are not careful.

Lyme disease is a constant worry in my household. My oldest son has been through two rounds of treatment for Lyme disease thanks to tick bites. Fortunately, he’s not had any noticeable repercussions from either infection. Sound diagnosis and treatment cleared up the disease.

But as they say, once bitten, twice shy. The boys know the parts of the farm that have a higher risk of ticks. They call a set of trees in our backyard “tick trees” because in the shade of the trees is where deer ticks like to reside. They know to spray down before heading outside and go through a regular “tick check” when they come inside.

My youngest son’s first-grade teacher said it’s frustrating because it seems with the risk of Lyme disease, children can’t just go outside and play.

I count my blessings that Lyme has not caused long-term health problems in the family. Some have not been so fortunate. Last year, I wrote a story about Montana Cole, a young lady in a tough fight with Lyme disease. Complications had paralyzed her legs and she was flying to the Midwest for therapy to relearn how to walk.

The Associated Press reported on April 3 that tick season started a month earlier than usual. Maine has recorded 40 cases of Lyme disease since the start of the year, underscoring that ticks are becoming a year-round problem in the region, especially when the winters are warmer than usual, said Dr. Siiri Bennett, Maine state epidemiologist.

It might seem routine, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control provides advice to reduce the risk. The agency recommends using a repellent with DEET on skin and clothing, or permethrin on clothing. The center says that repellents containing 20 percent or more of DEET can be applied to the skin to protect a person for several hours if applied according to the product’s instructions.

When coming in, people should make sure to check themselves, their pets and others for ticks, and remove any ticks that are found. Take a photo of the tick and monitor for symptoms. If symptoms do appear, contact a health professional.

Vigilance is needed. We did not find the tick on my son, but his first case appeared with all of the classic signs, bull’s eye rash, aches, joint pain and fever. The second case was not as clear. It took the skill of a seasoned pediatrician to not discount our worry about Lyme disease with the swelling of a knee. She sent my son to a specialist to treat the knee and asked for a Lyme disease screen. She and the specialist said, it doesn’t look like Lyme, but let’s be sure. Their concern resulted in a confirmation, and another round of treatment.

Don’t discount a worry. Look for ways to minimize a tick infestation around the farm. Treat the yard, trim back the grass and eliminate places where ticks like to reside.

Don’t let a fear of ticks ruin your enjoyment of the great outdoors, but take the advice of health professionals seriously.

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