My 3-year-old son, William, got a tick bite in Ireland (County Galway) on July 2, 2015. We’re from California, but were traveling in Ireland for a month during the summer.
I’d gotten a tick bite in Ireland (County Kerry) about 2 weeks before, and had since become very paranoid about ticks. I did “tick checks” a few times a day after we’d been outside. We stayed OUT of long grass entirely. I didn’t know much about Lyme disease at that time, but I DID know that I didn’t want to put him at risk for it.
It was one of the few truly warm days we had in Ireland. We were in Furbogh, Galway, along the western coast of Ireland, and took a short walk along the Wild Atlantic Way. Part of the walk took us down a small, graveled road. There was short grass on a strip in the middle of the road (see the image at the top of this post), but I figured the ticks wouldn’t hang out there, as the strip was surrounded by gravel.
We walked down the empty road, which led to an isolated spot with lots of rocks and sea birds. My husband, son, and I climbed out onto the rocks for a beautiful view, where we sat and looked out at the water for several minutes before walking back. My son was tired out, so he spent about half of the walk back on my husband’s shoulders — nowhere near the grass.
We stopped off for a drink and snack at Padraicins Seafood Bar & Restaurant, where we sat outside in the sunshine for about an hour before heading back to our AirBnB rental. Once there, I felt silly, but did another tick check.
I remember feeling terribly sad to find a nymph tick embedded in my 3-year-old son’s lower back. Unlike in my own case, I was able to remove the tick intact with my tweezers. It didn’t seem as deeply attached as the one that bit into my leg two weeks earlier, which made me think it was less likely to transmit infection. I put the tick into another Ziploc, and washed my son’s back.
The tick could not have been attached for more than 4 hours, yet my 3-year-old son became infected with Lyme disease
Everything on the CDC website told me, FALSELY, that 4 hours was not enough time for the tick to transmit Lyme bacteria (borrelia) to my son. Even so, I contacted the owner of our AirBnB rental, who also had a young son, and asked her if she was aware of any Lyme disease in the area. She said that yes, it was present, and then suggested a visit to the pharmacy or nearby doctor if we needed some peace-of-mind.
The next morning, we stopped at the pharmacy, where we spoke with a German pharmacist who said that we shouldn’t worry overly. She told us to watch for a bull’s eye rash (Erythema Migrans), as well as any flu-like symptoms, then went on to tell us how common Lyme disease was in her hometown, near the Black Forest. Her mother and sister had both been treated for neurological Lyme disease (Lyme Neuroborreliosis). She gave us a Lyme disease pamphlet, then sent us on our way.
William, my son, had NO SYMPTOMS until August 6 – five weeks after the tick bite
At that point, he developed a strange dry cough. I think that the delayed onset may have been due to the fact that the tick was attached for a short period of time. My belief, based on what I’ve read online, is that the longer a tick is attached, the more bacteria it will inject into your body. I think that it took almost six weeks for the tiny bit of bacteria that entered my son’s body during its 4 hours of attachment to reproduce and suppress his immune system sufficiently that it could make a more evident “attack.”
I’ll be writing a future post about my son’s symptoms, as I know that Lyme disease is incredibly difficult to recognize in young children. (Update: Click here to read the post about my son’s symptoms.) It’s even possible that his symptoms began a bit earlier, and that he simply wasn’t able to put into words the feelings in his body.
If you’re searching for a list of common Lyme disease symptoms, click here to read about my own early symptoms. If you are looking for a Lyme-literate doctor near you, please click here for more information.