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Lyme Disease Awareness

Summer is just a few weeks away, which means many children will be spending more time outdoors. Experts say that means kids' risk of acquiring Lyme disease increases. The tick-borne illness is reportedly one of the fastest-growing infectious diseases in the United States.

Despite its prevalence, however, many people don't know the symptoms of Lyme disease, or they confuse them with other ailments. CBS News health contributor Dr. Jordan Metzl discusses what's involved with the illness.

Metzl says most kids--about 80%--get the bull's-eye-shaped rash that forms at the site of a tick bite between 2 and 30 days after infection. The rash may be warm to the touch, but not painful. It is typically small and can be overlooked, which is why it is important to check a child's skin every night after they have been playing outside.

Symptoms of the disease include persistent inflamed joints, headaches, swollen glands, and fever. A child may one day complain about an achy knee and the next day a sore ankle. If your children are consistently making these kinds of complaints, Metzl says you may want to consider getting them tested for Lyme disease. Achy joints are often a sign the disease has progressed beyond the early stage.

Since many of the symptoms mimic other illnesses, it is very important to know your child's history. For example, if they've been playing outside and have any of the above signs, you'll want to call your doctor.

The primary treatment for Lyme disease in children is oral antibiotics. Some children take them for about 6 weeks and turn out fine. In more serious cases, intravenous antibiotics are needed. What many people may not know is that children are lucky because in almost all cases, they do not have a reoccurrence of the disease like adults can have.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a Lyme disease vaccine a few years ago for use in people between the ages of 15 and 70. But many doctors won't prescribe the vaccine to anyone, regardless of their age. Some studies have linked it to serious long-term complications including chronic joint pain.

To ensure that your child remains Lyme disease free, Metzl says it is very important that children wear insect repellent that contains DEET. Also, if you can convince your children to do so, have them wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and socks. When they come in from playing outdoors, check them for ticks. Pay special attention to the scalp and areas with folds in the skin including armpits and under the knees.

According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, the incidence of Lyme disease almost doubled during the 1990s. There were 16,273 Lyme disease cases reported in1999.

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