Bites from infected deer ticks cause Lyme disease. Symptoms in children range from fevers and headaches to heart and neurological problems later. If treated early with antibiotics, children can often recover fully.

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A 2019 Canadian study showed that children are more likely to get Lyme disease than adults, and most cases of Lyme disease appear in individuals 5 to 9 and 45 to 74 years old. Additionally, those most commonly hospitalized for Lyme disease are 15 to 19 and 40 to 44 years old.

Many early symptoms of Lyme disease can be confused for a cold or flu, but there are some unique symptoms, like a bullseye rash, that can help parents identify children’s Lyme disease symptoms and get them the appropriate medical care early.

Some children do not show symptoms at first when they get the infection. When symptoms do appear, they often develop in several stages.

Learn more about the stages of Lyme disease.

Early stages

One of the first symptoms of Lyme disease is often a rash that may have a clear middle and is often called a bullseye rash. Though it may be oval rather than round and may have no clear center. It can appear 3 to 30 days after infection.

Other early common symptoms of Lyme disease in children include:

  • headaches
  • fevers
  • chills
  • swollen glands

Later early stage

Getting treatment can prevent children with Lyme disease from developing problems with other areas and systems in their bodies. Mid- to early-stage symptoms may include:

  • rashes on other parts of the body, not necessarily near the site of the tick bite
  • joint pain or stiffness
  • problems with the nervous system (brain and spinal cord), including:
    • nerve damage in the face that can cause drooping in the face (facial palsy or paralysis)
    • numbness in arms or legs
    • difficulty with memory
    • mood changes
    • neck pain and stiffness caused by inflammation of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis)

Late stage

Without Lyme disease treatment for several months, some children may develop a form of arthritis called Lyme arthritis.

Lyme disease is transmissible to children through an infected deer tick — also called a black-legged tick.

To get Lyme disease, the tick must be carrying a type of bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. The tick must also attach for a long enough time to transmit the disease. This usually takes 36 to 48 hours.

Once a child has Lyme disease, they will need antibiotics. They will frequently take the antibiotics for several weeks and may need them through an intravenous in more serious cases. The dose of antibiotics needed will depend on factors like how long a child has had the infection before starting treatment and the severity of their symptoms.

If you notice the symptoms of Lyme disease mentioned above, it’s important to contact your child’s doctor right away.

A doctor often makes a Lyme disease diagnosis based on the presence of a rash, other common Lyme disease symptoms, and the likelihood of the child’s exposure to a deer tick bite.

Your child’s doctor can also confirm a Lyme disease diagnosis through antibody blood tests, but the results may not show that they have Lyme disease if a doctor tests them too early — before a sufficient antibody response develops.

When doctors detect Lyme disease early and treat it with appropriate antibiotics, many children can make a full recovery from Lyme disease.

But some individuals continue to experience symptoms even after treatment. This is frequently called post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome or chronic Lyme disease. It is unclear why some individuals experience this. This usually clears up in time. Although, it may take months or sometimes years to feel healthy again.

Can Lyme disease be prevented in children?

There is currently no medication or vaccination to prevent Lyme disease. Some of the best ways to help prevent Lyme disease in children involve keeping skin covered when outside, wearing deer tick repellents, removing ticks quickly, and only playing in areas clear of underbrush.

How should a tick be removed to reduce the chances of Lyme disease spreading?

People can remove a tick by squeezing the tick’s head with tweezers close to the skin. Try not to squeeze, jerk, or twist the tick’s body. Remove the tick as soon as possible to reduce the chances Lyme disease transmission. After removing the tick, save it in a jar or plastic bag in case symptoms develop so that doctors can identify the tick.

Are there times children are more likely to get Lyme disease?

Children can often be more at risk of Lyme disease in the spring and summer, when ticks are more active. May and June are the peak months for transmission.

Children are some of the most commonly affected by Lyme disease. Children with Lyme disease may initially show flu-like symptoms, but without treatment, it can eventually impact the heart and neurological system. It can also cause arthritis.

If you believe your child may be showing symptoms of Lyme disease, it’s important to get medical care as soon as possible. With antibiotics, a complete recovery is frequently possible.