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Health Care

Health Notes

By Kathy Sena

TEN THINGS KIDS SHOULD KNOW ABOUT LYME DISEASE

Lyme disease a well-known health problem in the U.S., with more than 20,000 new cases reported annually. It has been found in all 50 states, and a high percentage of its victims are children, says Debbie Siciliano, co-chair of Time for Lyme, Inc. (www.timeforlyme.org), a research, education and support group in Greenwich, Connecticut.
"Children are particularly vulnerable because they are outside a lot, especially in the early summer, when ticks are most plentiful," Siciliano says. If they do get infected, kids can experience headaches, fatigue and flu-like symptoms, and if the disease is left untreated, they can also develop learning and behavioral problems, depression, nerve damage, memory loss and other cognitive, psychiatric and neurological problems, she adds.
Here’s what every kid (and parent) should know:
° Lyme disease comes from ticks. Lyme disease is caused by bacteria called borrelia burgdorferi, which are carried by parasitic (blood-sucking) black-legged ticks and deer ticks. The bacteria live inside the tick and can be transmitted when the tick attaches itself to a host and begins to suck blood.
° Ticks are everywhere. Lyme disease is most common in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes regions. But it's been reported all over the U.S. — and in 50 countries around the world.
° Ticks are tiny. These ticks are very small, especially in the first and second stage of life (larval and nymphal). At this stage, unless they're already engorged (full of blood), they're much smaller than the head of a pin and nearly impossible to see. Ticks are especially good at hiding in dark places like the scalp and underarms, where you're even less likely to find them. Kids need a head-to-toe check every time they're out in tick territory.
° Ticks are animal lovers. Lyme-carrying ticks are typically stowaways on deer, squirrels and mice and are most often found in areas where these animals are common. Ticks can also catch a ride on the family pet, so check the dog or cat every time he comes in from the outside. (Don't mistake the ticks that transmit Lyme with the common dog tick, which is much bigger, although dog ticks may carry diseases.)
° Ticks dig plants. You'll also find plenty of ticks in wooded areas, parks and forests as well as your own backyard and in dune grasses at the beach. Kids should stick to the trails and open areas and avoid wet, wooded areas, tall grass and leaf-littered areas.
° Summer is tick time. The ticks that transmit Lyme disease are most active (and plentiful) in May, June and July and are most difficult to find then, as they are typically in the nymphal stage.
° DEET works. You wouldn't want to bathe in the stuff, but it's the most effective way to repel Lyme-carrying ticks. Just use it wisely: Use just enough to cover exposed skin. Apply it to your own hands and then rub them on your child (avoid his eyes and mouth). Don't apply to a young child's hands (little kids often put their hands in their mouths) and don't apply to cuts or irritated skin.
° Light clothes are the right clothes. Kids should wear light-colored clothing (which makes it easier to spot ticks) with long sleeves and legs. (Tuck pants into socks.)
° Timing is everything. The chances of contracting Lyme disease from an infected tick increase with the length of time it's attached. If you find a tick, grasp it with fine-tipped tweezers and pull away from the skin without crushing its body. If you think your child was bitten by an infected tick, see the doctor right away: The sooner you begin treatment, the better. Oral, intravenous and intramuscular medications may be used in the treatment of Lyme disease.
° Rashes aren't required. Lyme disease is associated with a red, bulls-eye-shaped rash, but many people never see one (and don't remember being bitten by a tick). Also, not all Lyme rashes have a bulls-eye. So if your child starts to develop symptoms of a Lyme infection, see your pediatrician — rash or no rash.

TEEN BIRTH RATES UP SLIGHTLY FOR SECOND CONSECUTIVE YEAR

The birth rate for U.S. teens ages 15 to 19 increased by about 1 percent in 2007 (the most recent statistics available), from 41.9 births per 1,000 in 2006 to 42.5 in 2007, according to a recent report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is the second year in a row that teen births have gone up. They increased 3 percent in 2006 following a 14-year decline.
Birth rates also increased for women in their 20s, 30s and early 40s, but remained unchanged for younger teens and pre-teens ages 10 to 14. Only Hispanic teens noted a decline in the birth rate, which fell 2 percent in 2007 to 81.7 births per 1,000.

BOOST YOUR FAMILY’S HEALTH — AND WATCH YOUR FOOD BUDGET

With many of us trying to watch our spending right now, Tennessee Tech University nutrition professor Cathy Hix-Cunningham is helping by offering tips for selecting healthy and inexpensive food.
“The key is to depend more on the plant world for our sources of protein and fiber,” she says. “From a health standpoint, our diet is probably healthiest if we’re at least partial vegetarians, and that’s usually an inexpensive alternative as well.” Hix-Cunningham’s tips include:
° Make a bean dish for the main course several nights a week. They come in many varieties and can be used in dishes ranging from hummus and other dips to soups and stews or chili and casseroles.
° Don’t neglect dairy foods. Milk is rich in calcium and vitamin D, and gallon for gallon, it costs less than bottled water, so it’s important to include dairy in your family’s diet. Even people who are lactose intolerant can usually eat cheese, and it doesn’t have to be a gourmet brand. Inexpensive brands pack as much nutritional value.
° Eat more dried fruits. Dried fruits such as raisins and prunes offer lots of nutrients in a small serving, and the drying process gives them added iron.
° Choose whole-grain pasta and rice. Whole-grain products have flavor, texture and trace minerals that the processed versions don’t have. That makes the whole-grain products healthier and more filling.
° Eat more sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are high in fiber and vitamin A. For the calories and cost, few foods are as nutritious.
° Add onions to main dishes or serve them grilled as a side item. Onions are rich in vitamin A, and they make a wonderful side dish when they’re grilled with margarine and seasoned salt.
° Compare costs between fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables. Today’s freezing methods do a great job of retaining nutrients. In fact, some fresh food may lose more nutrients during storage and transportation when compared with frozen foods.
° Become a container gardener. Chives and many other herbs are inexpensive and easy to grow in small containers. That makes it simple to have fresh herbs available even with limited space. Some fruits and vegetables can also be grown in containers.
Kathy Sena is a freelance journalist specializing in health and parenting issues and is the mother of a 13-year-old son.
Visit her blog at www.parenttalktoday.com.

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