Children

The CDC says that Lyme disease is most common among boys aged 5-19. This age group is affected at three times the average rate of all other age groups. Around 25% of all reported cases are children.

Children with Lyme disease have special issues. Since they did not have much of a history of wellness prior to becoming ill, Tthey don’t know what “normal” is. They can’t always explain what is feels wrong. Because the symptoms of Lyme disease can be non-specific, vague, and changeable, parents and teachers may suspect them of malingering or making things up to gain attention. It is also difficult for parents to discern when their child’s symptoms are worse or better, given the difficulties children have making that determination themselves.

Children with Lyme disease may miss important developmental stages, due to because of social isolation caused by chronic ill health, and the failure of their peers to understand the nature and degree of their illness. They may fall behind their peers in school because their brains are not functioning properly. Children suffer when their bodies hurt, when the illness causes them not to be able to have restorative sleep every night, when they must struggle in school, when they don’t even feel like playing. They may feel confused, lost, and betrayed by caregivers who fail to recognize that something organic is going on, but instead blame them.. Isolation from parents occurs when parents don’t understood the nature of the illness, and the implications for the child’s functioning.

According to research, children are bitten by ticks more frequently around the head and neck, making them more vulnerable to brain and central nervous system infections. The resulting neurologic symptoms of Lyme disease are often misdiagnosed. Lyme pediatric specialist Charles Ray Jones, MD, compiled a list of common symptoms of infection in his young patients:

  • severe fatigue unrelieved by rest
  • insomnia
  • headaches
  • nausea, abdominal pain
  • impaired concentration
  • poor short-term memory
  • inability to sustain attention
  • difficulty thinking and expressing thoughts
  • difficulty reading and writing
  • being overwhelmed by schoolwork
  • difficulty making decisions
  • confusion
  • uncharacteristic behavior
  • outbursts and mood swings
  • fevers/chills
  • joint pain
  • dizziness
  • noise and light sensitivity
 

Dr. Jones has also documented congenital, or gestational, Lyme disease in some children who were infected in utero or by breastfeeding. In these patients his suspicion is raised when the child has:

  • frequent fevers
  • increased incidence of ear and throat infections
  • increased incidence of pneumonia
  • irritability
  • joint and body pain
  • poor muscle tone
  • gastroesophageal reflux
  • small windpipe (tracheomalacia)
  • cataracts and other eye problems
  • developmental delay
  • learning disabilities
  • psychiatric problems
 

Among Jones’ patients, 50% have no known history of deer tick attachments and fewer than 10% have a history of an erythema migrans Lyme rash (bull’s-eye).

According to neuropsychiatrist Brian Fallon, MD, director of theSurveys University Lyme Disease Research Center and principal investigator of an NIH-funded study on chronic Lyme disease, about 15 percent of infected patients (not necessarily of children) develop objective neurologic abnormalities, most commonly displaying part of the triad of aseptic meningitis, cranial neuritis, and motor sensory radiculitis.

Case reports (again, not necessarily of children) have linked a variety of neurologic syndromes to late Lyme disease, including:

  • Blindness
  • Progressive demyelinating-like syndromes (mimicking Multiple sclerosis)
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Guillain-Barre
  • Progressive dementias
  • Seizure disorders
  • Strokes
  • Extrapyramidal disorders
  • Encephalomyelitis
  • Spastic paraparesis
  • Ataxia
  • Bladder dysfunction
  • Cranial neuropathy