Warm weather brings an annual resurgence in ticks, which in turn brings an annual rise in Lyme disease cases.
“Late spring and summer are the highest risk times of the year due to warm weather and more people being in tick-infested areas,” said Dr. Brian Campfield, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh. “But Lyme disease and tick bites can occur year-round.”
Being on guard for the tick and the infections they carry is especially important for children, as physicians at UPMC Children’s Hospital have studied their particular susceptibility to Lyme disease.
“In the mid-2000s, we noticed a dramatic increase in both cases of children with Lyme disease and questions regarding Lyme disease in children from local physicians,” said Dr. Andrew Nowalk, associate professor of pediatrics and clinical director of infectious diseases at UPMC Children’s Hospital. “Currently, our cases are up 50% in 2021 compared to 2018 and 2020, our previous record years for Lyme disease. We have admitted almost 40 children with Lyme disease already – since our highest year was 55 admissions in 2018, we are almost certain to exceed that, too.”
As doctors at UPMC Children’s continued to track and research the trends associated with Lyme disease in children, they noticed that cases first concentrated in rural areas and then steadily spread to urban zip codes. The rural epidemic over time evolved into one more focused in the Pittsburgh area.
Despite the increase in Lyme disease cases among children, Nowalk noted that successful treatment options are available for cases at all stages of infection.
“Fortunately, children have excellent responses to antibiotics and treatment completely eliminates the infection,” said Nowalk. “However, especially in older children and those infected for a longer period of time prior to diagnosis, symptoms can persist after treatment due to damage from infection. These symptoms do not require more antibiotics but can be very challenging to deal with in many patients.”
Lyme disease can be avoided by applying a few practical measures to ward off ticks:
• Use DEET or permethrin-based insect repellant on clothes and skin
• Be cautious around tall grasses
• Wear long sleeves and pants when planning for outdoor activities, such as hiking, fishing and playing in parks
• Do a thorough visual inspection of the clothes and body after being outside
• If a tick is found, grasp it with tweezers close to the skin’s surface and pull straight up with a steady pressure
Visit the UPMC Children’s website for further information on Lyme disease.