What Parents Need to Know About Children and Lyme Disease

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    With the arrival of warmer weather also comes tick season, and with it the threat of Lyme disease. Did you know that Suffolk County is in the heart of one of the country’s highest risk areas? Parents, especially, need to be aware of the risks of tick-borne disease in children. Dr. Saul Hymes, Director of the Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Center at Stony Brook Children’s, offers his best advice.

    What is Lyme Disease?

    Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection transmitted by the bite of the Ixodes scapularis tick. In acute infections, it can cause days of headache, fevers, rash and muscle aches. More severe cases can progress to a Bell’s Palsy (facial paralysis) or meningitis. Untreated, it can lead to heart problems, arthritis, and even long-term neurologic and/or rheumatologic conditions. Other illnesses carried by ticks local to Long Island include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesiosis, Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis, Tularemia and STARI.

    Is Lyme disease a problem for children?

    Overall, Lyme disease is a growing problem for Suffolk County, with as many as 5,000 to 6,000 cases a year. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that there are approximately 300,000 cases annually across the country, although only 10 percent get reported. This means that awareness is low, and that many people may not be receiving prompt or appropriate treatment. When Lyme disease goes undiagnosed, especially in children, there can be serious complications. However, know that treatment is extremely effective, especially if started early.

    What should I do if my child has a tick bite or I suspect that they have Lyme disease?

    Seek medical treatment from an expert. Symptoms that may alert you to possible Lyme disease infection include rash and flu-like symptoms in the early stages followed by joint pain or neurological problems.

    Where do I find experts in Lyme disease?

    At the Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Center at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. This new center, staffed by members of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, provides multidisciplinary, comprehensive diagnosis, treatment and management of Lyme and other diseases transmitted by ticks. There’s an advantage to having your child treated by an infectious disease expert like the ones at Stony Brook’s Center. They are all board-certified pediatricians, with specialty training in pediatric infectious diseases. They have expertise in treating all types of pediatric infectious diseases, including Lyme disease, and are up to date on all relevant tick disease-related treatments and research. They remain current on the latest guidelines, and bring a level of experience to their patients that can make a difference in both common and hard-to-diagnose cases.

    How does Stony Brook’s Lyme Disease Center work with children?

    After a tick bite, or if symptoms of Lyme disease are suspected, our team can perform a complete medical history, appropriate screenings and laboratory tests, a physical exam, tick identification, follow-up management and referrals to other pediatric medical experts, if needed.

    Most important, we take time with each child. We understand that every case is different, and symptoms show up in children differently so we help you sort it all out. We also keep in close contact with your family doctor or referring physician so that everyone who cares for your child stays in the loop.

    What else does the Center offer?

    When the symptoms of Lyme disease began emerging in the population, the test to confirm Lyme disease was invented by a Stony Brook microbiologist. So as long as there has been Lyme disease, Stony Brook has been involved. Because Suffolk County has been an epicenter for the disease since the beginning, Stony Brook has dedicated resources to understanding the disease process, investigating causes and treatments, and developing evidence-based best practices. Lyme disease, quite simply, is one of our areas of expertise. In fact, our Lyme laboratory has such high-quality testing that even hospitals in the city send their samples to us. Also important to note: Because this is a children’s hospital-based center, the Lyme Disease team has access to the full resources of Stony Brook. This includes specialists from the Pediatric Rheumatology, Pediatric Orthopedics, Pediatric Cardiology and Pediatric Neurology Departments, along with sophisticated diagnostic technology, neuropsychiatric evaluations, social work and other supporting services. The point is, we are able to deliver a comprehensive approach in one place, close to home.

    For more information about Stony Brook Children's, call (631) 444-KIDS.

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    All health and health-related information contained in this article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance, and treatment. The information is intended to offer only general information for individuals to discuss with their healthcare provider. It is not intended to constitute a medical diagnosis or treatment or endorsement of any particular test, treatment, procedure, service, etc. Reliance on information provided is at the user's risk. Your healthcare provider should be consulted regarding matters concerning the medical condition, treatment, and needs of you and your family. Stony Brook University/SUNY is an affirmative action, equal opportunity educator and employer.

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