Summer Sagansky still remembers the day she came home last year complaining about a pain in her left ankle.
"I couldn't walk and I thought it was because I bumped into somebody," she recalls.
But it was more than just a bump. Over the next few days, the arthritis-like pain traveled to her right knee and before long her whole body began to ache. It got so bad that she couldn't sleep at night.
Says Christy Welker, Summer's mother, "I have a child up at night screaming literally in pain and she'd wake up with a new joint hurting and you say, 'Oh my God what is happening to my child?'"
What was happening was late stage Lyme disease. Passed on by the bite of a tick, its symptoms often mimic those of other diseases, including arthritis.
According to Dr. Laura Fisher, an infectious disease specialist, "Anyone with an unexplained arthritis, meaning they don't have the old age or osteo-arthritis, they don't have lupus arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, they should be tested."
Despite the diagnosis, Summer's parents were relieved their daughter didn't have a more serious illness.
Says Summer's mother, "We were so excited that it was Lyme disease because it was the least of our problems."
CBS News Health Contributor Dr. Jordan Metzl says about 80 percent of children get the bullseye shaped rash. It forms at the site of the tick bite between 2 and 30 days after being infected. The rash may be warm to the touch but not painful. It is typically small and can be overlooked.
Arthritis-like symptoms are also common, however less so than the rash. Like Summer, a child may one day complain about an achy knee and the next day, a sore ankle. If your child is consistently making these kinds of complaints, you may want to consider getting them tested for Lyme disease.
Some children will get headaches, swollen glands, a fever or complain of fatigue. But these symptoms are less likely. What you really want to be on the lookout for is the rash and the achy joints.
For Lyme disease in a child, the primary treatment is antibiotics that can be administered either through the mouth or intravenously. Summer, for instance, took them for about six weeks, and now she is completely fine. Children are lucky because in almost all cases, they will not have a recurrence like adults tend to have.
The Lyme disease vaccine has been approved for use in people between the ages of 15 to 70. But many doctors won't prescribe it, regardless of the age. Some studies have linked it to serious long-term complications, including chronic joint pain.
A few tip to help prevent Lyme disease:
- Insect Repellent. Spray your child's body and clothes with insect repellent that contains DEET. It should be reapplied every six to eight hours. If you have an animal that goes outside, make sure they wear a tick collar. There are many cases of people catching Lyme disease through contact with their pets.
- Long Light-Colored Clothing. It's almost impossible to avoid wooded areas during the summer, so the best defense is a good offense. Children may not like it, but they should wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks. Try to have them wear light-colored clothing, too. This makes ticks easier to spot.
- Check For Ticks. As soon as your child comes inside, check his or her entire body for ticks. They can be tiny as small as a pinhead. Pay extra attention to the scalp as well as armpits and underneath the knees. Also, don't forget to thoroughly check your pets for ticks.
For more information from the Lyme Disease Foundation, go to www.lyme.org.
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