Tick Bites: Fact vs. Fiction

Tick bites can be a common summer nuisance depending on where your activities or travels take you. Parents should be aware of common misconceptions related to ticks, says CHOC Children’s pediatrician Dr. Katherine Williamson.

Parents can help prevent tick bites: Fact

There are several things parents can do to help their children avoid tick bites.

  • Stay on a path when hiking
  • Wear long pants, and tuck pants into long socks
  • On clothes, use permethrin spray. On the skin, use insect repellent with 30 percent DEET. Be aware that this generally only lasts on the skin for one to two hours, so reapply often if you’re spending extended time outdoors.

Remove ticks by lighting a match near the arachnid: Fiction

This age-old myth can lead to accidental injuries, says Williamson, and should always be avoided. Instead, dip a cotton ball in liquid soap, and soak the tick for one to two minutes. Then locate the head of the tick and use a tweezers to pull it straight out. If the tick  is still latched on to the skin,  hold the head of the tick straight out for 30-60 seconds and it will release from the skin. Then drop the tick into a jar of rubbing alcohol to eliminate it. If the tick is too small to grab with a tweezers, use a credit card or popsicle stick to slide it off the skin. Most tick bites don’t result in any symptoms or side effects, and removal at home is sufficient care.

Tick bites lead to Lyme disease: Rarely

The likelihood of contracting Lyme disease via a tick bite in southern California is extremely small, says Williamson.  There are many variations of ticks and only one- deer ticks, not commonly found in this region- transmits Lyme disease. Since deer ticks are tiny, they are easily missed.  Always do a full body check for ticks after going outdoors, and pay close attention to the head, neck and scalp, since ticks gravitate to those areas.

Consult your pediatrician if you cannot remove the tick in its entirety, or if your child becomes symptomatic. Lyme disease symptoms include fever, muscle aches, joint aches and headaches. If you were recently in an area known for deer ticks, most notably the northeastern United States or the upper Midwest, watch out for small red rings one to two inches from a possible bite site, which may be a sign of Lyme disease. Treatment includes one to two weeks of antibiotics, and most children make a complete recovery with no complications.

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New Vaccination Law: What it Means for Your Family

Echoing longstanding recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics supporting childhood immunizations, a new vaccination law in California eliminates the ability to cite a ‘personal belief exemption’ from mandatory childhood vaccinations. This means that in order to be enrolled in public or private child care centers,  preschools, primary or secondary schools, children must be vaccinated against the following  10 diseases: diphtheria, Haemophilus influenzae type b (bacterial meningitis), measles, mumps, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, rubella, tetanus, hepatitis B and chicken pox. We spoke to Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician, on what this new vaccination law means for children and families.

Dr. Katherine Roberts
Dr. Katherine Williamson

Q: What does California’s new vaccination law mean for children and families?

A: Some parents think that this means vaccines are now mandatory- but for decades, every state in the U.S. has required that children be vaccinated against certain diseases. This change means that personal belief exemptions to these long-standing mandatory vaccines can no longer be applied. It will make schools a safer place for children- those who are already healthy, and those who are immunocompromised. California is not an anomaly in creating a law such as this. Many other states have already adopted similar laws, and results in those places show that they’ve been successful in preventing outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases.

Q: Why is it important for parents to follow the immunization schedule outlined by the AAP?

A: The current immunization schedule outlined by the AAP and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has been researched and proven to be the most effective and safest way for children to be vaccinated against potentially fatal diseases. It’s important to know that there’s no existing alternative schedule that has been studied to show it’s as safe and effective.

I get frequent questions from expectant and new parents who are concerned about the number of vaccines given to kids at one time under this schedule. The amount of antigen in the vaccine that is put into their child’s body is 10,000 to 100,000 times less than if they just got a common cold, so there’s no chance of overwhelming their immune system.

Q: How do medical exemptions affect children through this new law?

A: Medical exemptions to vaccines are not common, but children that qualify would still be exempt, as they are immunocompromised, or in even less frequent instances, they have allergic reactions to vaccines. Children with medical exemptions will be in a much safer position because they won’t be surrounded by other kids who could pass on a fatal dose of measles, for example.

Q: How do vaccines fit into a patient’s overall lifelong medical care?

A: Vaccines and proper hand washing, more so than all other interventions, have proven to be among the most safe and effective ways to prevent disease.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with parents about vaccines?

A: All diseases for which kids are vaccinated in U.S. have the potential to be fatal, and we still see instances of these diseases. While some are in higher rates than others, all have increased in frequency in areas where children are not vaccinated, and international travel makes even diseases such as polio a potential risk.

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How to Treat Poison Oak this Summer

Contrary to a common misconception, poison oak is a different nuisance than its counterpart, poison ivy. In southern California and throughout the West Coast, outdoor explorers can expect to find poison oak in wooded, brushy areas. In the northeast, you will find poison ivy, and in the southeast, poison sumac.

The best way to avoid poison oak is to stay on a path when outdoors this summer, since poison oak can be hidden in brushy areas. Wear long pants and socks, and avoid off-roading, advises Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician.

Poison oak causes a contact dermatitis that is spread onto the skin from the plant oils. A rash and itchy irritation are common side effects of a poison oak exposure. These plants cause a delayed reaction, so symptoms may appear anywhere from a few hours to a few days later, potentially creating confusion on their cause. The itching may last for a few days, and the rash may be apparent for up to two weeks. Unfortunately, while nothing will make the  red weepy rash go away faster, says Williamson, but topical calamine lotion may provide relief from the intense itching, which can last for a few days. Hydrocortisone cream may also alleviate symptoms, and can be used in conjunction with topical calamine lotion, she adds. For severe cases, oral antihistamines can help. Consult your pediatrician on specific questions related to any medication regimen.

If you think you have been exposed to poison oak, it is important to thoroughly wash anything that may be have been exposed to the plant oils which can spread to the skin if touched again:

  • Wash yourself and the clothes you were wearing at the time of exposure
  • Use soapy water to wash down your shoes, including laces
  • Wash or wipe down coat

It’s important for parents to remember that poison oak dermatitis, although inconvenient, is not contagious, so there is no reason to keep kids home from school if they have poison oak.

If the affected area becomes puffy, painful or at-home remedies do not alleviate itching, consult your pediatrician, as those may be signs of a skin infection. Topical or oral antibiotics may be prescribed. In rare cases, oral steroids may be needed.

Learn more safety tips to protect your family this summer.

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