Pediatricians warn of increase in tick bites as peak season begins

BOSTON — Pediatricians are seeing a sharp increase in tick bites as families spend more time outdoors during another pandemic-era spring.

“I would say it started in early March, and we get several calls a day about tick bites now,” said Dr. Lori Gara-Matthews of Pediatric Health Care at Newton-Wellesley. “I think people are trying to be outside more because of being careful of indoor exposure to COVID.”

Dr. Gara-Matthews, a general and developmental pediatrician, said she see tick bites nearly year-round, but this year and last year peak “tick season” has started early.

Roslindale 7-year-old Everett Beigbeder, a patient at Gara-Matthews’ office, discovered a tick on the back of his head under his hair while watching a movie last Friday night.

“I asked my mom, ‘What is this?’ And she felt it, and she didn’t know what it is. And she shined a light on it. And it was a tick, a giant deer tick,” he said. “I think it was pretty scary.”

Everett’s mother, Linda Lea Wells, took her son to the doctor’s office the next morning. Although he didn’t have the warning signs of Lyme disease, the doctor prescribed a single dose of prophylactic doxycycline, an antibiotic that reduces the risk of contracting Lyme disease.

“When he told me something was on his head and I felt it, I thought maybe it was Play-Doh or something. That’s how big it felt,” Wells said. “We’re terrified of Lyme disease, because we have a couple friends who have been suffering from Lyme disease for quite some time.”

Gara-Matthews advises parents to do daily tick checks, particularly in warm spots of the body, perhaps at bath time.

“You want to look in the ears, behind the ears, under the arms, the groin, the belly button, actually,” Gara-Matthews. “We once found a huge tick in the ear that was in the canal.”

She also encourages parents to look for the warning signs of Lyme disease, which is caused by bacteria spread by deer ticks. Symptoms include fever, fatigue and rash. While the classic bull’s-eye rash often surrounds the site of the tick bite, rash from Lyme can occur on other parts of the body.

Dangers of Lyme in the secondary and tertiary stages of the disease include joint problems and brain complications, respectively.

But the quicker the tick is removed, the better the outcome. If attached for less than 36 hours, the risk is generally low.

“Once you get at least the body out, even if the head is stuck in, you’re stopping the Lyme from getting injected,” Gara-Matthews said.

Gara-Matthews urges parents to remove ticks attached to the skin by putting a glob of dish soap on a cotton ball and applying it to the insect. The tick should pop off.

If necessary, one can use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull upward without twisting or jerking. Always clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.

But prevention is key, she said. Wear bug spray outdoors, if age-appropriate; wear long sleeves; and avoid being outside after dusk. Also, check pets for ticks not only for their own health but also to avoid bringing them into the house.

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