Bob Oley, PE, MSPH
Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention Expert
Public Health and Site Consultant

Back to School With No Recess From Ticks

Going back to school, after a summer free from the drudgery of homework assignments, can prove to be a real challenge for some children, but not for the reasons you might otherwise expect. If your child was bitten by a deer tick during the summer months or at the start of the school year, he or she may have become infected with Lyme disease or one of its co-infections such as babesiosis or anaplasmosis. Whether bitten by an infected tick during the summer or while participating in outside school activities, the end result can be devastating to a child, transforming him or her from a productive and happy student to one who is chronically ill and unable to function in the school environment.


If a child is infected with a tick-borne disease such as Lyme disease, he or she can be presented with a myriad of symptoms, beginning with flu-like conditions and progressing to far more serious health complications. Some of the more common chronic symptoms associated with Lyme disease include headaches, muscle and joint pain, stiff neck, stomach aches, back pain, chronic fatigue, anxiety, short term memory loss, slurred speech, inability to concentrate for long periods, depression, brain fog, difficulty sleeping at night, and the list goes on seemingly without end. It is not uncommon to find a child diagnosed with behavioral issues such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), when in reality their neurological symptoms were caused by undiagnosed Lyme disease.


Lyme disease is a multi-system disease. The disease organism can spread to all parts of the body, including the brain, the central nervous system, the heart, the muscles and joints, the intestinal system, the bones, etc. The physical pain and mental impairment associated with this disease can be incredibly debilitating, and the neurological issues behavior altering.


School age children are at particularly high risk because they spend a lot of their free time outdoors with recreational or extracurricular school activities. How many students during a soccer game have chased down a loose ball rolling off the field and into a wooded area? How many students have sat on the grass in the shade of a tree getting a needed break from the heat of the sun between halves of a sporting event? These outside areas can represent danger zones for tick infestation, and students, coaches, and teachers need to know this. As indestructible as students may think they are, they are not exempt from tick bites or the diseases they carry.


Pupils must be taught where they are most likely to come in contact with ticks when outdoors, and that deer ticks are active throughout the entire school year. Whenever the temperature is above 32 degrees and the ground is not frozen or covered with snow, you will find deer ticks looking for a host to feed on. And once a tick attaches to you and goes unnoticed, you become a prime candidate for contracting Lyme disease or any or its co-infections.


Thus, students must learn to check themselves for ticks right after outside activities if possible, or certainly no later than at the end of the day. They must be informed of those personal protection measures available to them to repel ticks, such as using tick repellents both on clothing and skin.


Students, as well as parents and school faculty alike, must be educated about ticks, Lyme disease, and other tick-borne diseases, and how these diseases present themselves. Then, when a child comes down with flu-like symptoms during the non-flu season, unexplained muscle and joint pain, behavioral changes, chronic fatigue, etc., tick-borne diseases can be looked at as a possible cause for the child’s condition, and timely treatment given.