Affinity Health Plan

  • Don't Let Bugs take a Bite out of Summer's Fun

    August 06, 2015

    For children, summer is the best time to be out doors. While the kiddies are out there, make sure that they are protected from ticks and other bug bites.

    Ticks on red backgroundAmong the bugs in the region, a tick bite is the one that can pose a real problem, because it can cause Lyme disease. "It can be serious," said Dr. Avi Silber, Chief Medical Officer of The Greater Hudson Valley Family Health Center, of the disease.  "It can affect the nervous system and affect the joints."

    If any good news exists about Lyme disease, it is that catching it doesn't happen easily. "A tick has to be attached for about 36 hours to transmit the disease, said Dr. Silber. "So, if you are sure that the tick you removed has only been on you for a day, don't worry."

    For New York City, the news is even better. "It is rare to have a tick that has Lyme disease in New York City," the doctor said.  "Most people in New York City who have the disease have been in areas where Lyme disease is, such as the Hamptons, Westchester County and other rural counties."

    Lyme disease can have different manifestations. "There is early local disease where you have that bull's eye rash that everybody knows about," Dr. Silber said, adding, "It can also be accompanied by fevers, aches and pains."  Up to 80 percent of the population experiences that bull's eye rash, which can grow up to 12 inches in diameter, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

    Lyme disease can also disseminate or spread in the early stage, the doctor explained. "Some people can get Bell's palsy, which is a facial paralysis," he explained. Other symptoms include, pain, heart problems, and meningitis, which is a swelling of the brain.

    In later stages, which can occur months to years after being bitten, the joints may become painful, enlarged and swollen, especially the knee, reports the CDC. "There is a blood test for Lyme disease, but tests aren't perfect," said Dr. Silber.  It can return false/positive reading, meaning that the test will say that a person has the Lyme disease, when that person really does not. Just taking a blood test isn't helpful. "Symptoms must be present," the doctor said.

    If a person is found to have early Lyme disease, it is treated with a two to four week course of antibiotics. Even after treatment, Dr. Silber explained that, "Sometimes the symptoms can linger for a while." These symptoms can last for more than 6 months, the CDC reports. Visit the CDC's website  for post-Lyme disease treatment advice.

    Follow these tips to help reduce your child's chances of getting bitten:

    • Spray them with insect repellant containing 20 to 30 percent DEET. It's safe for children as young as two months," Dr. Silber said.  Also, it can help to keep the bugs away for hours.
    • When practical, have your kids wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, especially on a hike.
    • Have them shower after spending time outside. Take this opportunity to check for ticks.

    If you find a tick, remove it with tweezers. If the tick's head remains, use a topical antibiotic to clean the area. "The embedded piece does not increase the risk of Lyme," the doctor said.

    Mosquito bites

    Mosquitoes are a pesky drawback to the summer season.  In North America, only mosquitoes carrying the West Nile Virus pose a problem. But being bitten by one is unlikely.  Last year, the nation reported just 2,200 cases of the mosquito-borne West Nile Virus, according to the CDC.  Most people who contract the virus don't even display symptoms.  Of the people bitten just one in five get a fever, and fewer go on to develop such serious illnesses as encephalitis or meningitis, which involves swelling of the brain, according to the CDC.

    Still, taking precaution is essential. "Mosquitoes can spread disease," said Dr. Silber. If bitten, try not to break the skin by scratching.  If the skin is broken, clean out the wound with soap and water. Antiseptics can be used. Put a Band-Aid over the scratch to prevent infections.

    Chances are unlikely that being bitten by a mosquito or tick will result in an illness.  Still, Dr. Silber said, "the best thing you could do is try to minimize bug bites."

    As with Lyme disease, prevention is the best way to avoid bug bites (see tips above).

    In addition, follow these tips to be extra safe.

    • Standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Avoid areas where water pools for a long time, such as old tires or anything with rain water standing in it.
    • Get rid of any stand pools of water near your house.


    "Be aware that you are not going to prevent 100 percent of bug bites," Dr. Silber said. But prevention and knowing what to do makes a difference.


    Avi Silber, MD, FAAP, is the Chief Medical Officer for The Greater Hudson Valley Family Health Center. His specialty is Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. Dr. Silber is a graduate of Temple University School of Medicine, and he holds an undergraduate degree in biology from SUNY Binghamton. He is a member of the American Association of Pediatrics and the Orange County Medical Society. Dr. Silber and the staff at The Greater Hudson Valley Family Health Center provide services to members of the Affinity Health Plan.

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