Keep Kids Safe From Bugs
Lyme disease. Rocky Mountain spotted fever. West Nile virus. Flying fiends and crawling critters can spread such diseases with a bite.
Few cases put kids' lives at risk, say experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Still, some insects can threaten children's health, and you'd be wise to take precautions.
"Sometimes, parents are focused on West Nile virus or Lyme and they lose sight of a simpler but common problem," says Lynnette J. Mazur, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston and a member of the AAP. "Sometimes, the itching from a bite can cause a child to scratch the area, causing an infection that will require treatment with an antibiotic."
Many products seek to prevent bug bites, but Dr. Mazur says one that can be applied to skin is very effective: DEET (usually listed on labels as N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide). The AAP recommends using products with no more than 30 percent DEET on children 2 months of age and older who will be exposed to insects that might cause diseases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls DEET "very safe" when used according to directions. Longer protection
The AAP says that DEET seems as safe in concentrations of 30 percent as in concentrations of 10 percent. Products containing more DEET provide longer, but not better, protection. Products that contain about 10 percent DEET are effective for about two hours, the AAP says. Products that contain about 24 percent DEET protect, on average, for about five hours. Products that contain more than 30 percent DEET do not offer much added benefit and are not recommended for children. One prudent approach, the AAP suggests, would be to select the lowest concentration effective for the amount of time your children will spend outdoors.
"Don't spray the face. Spray your hand and pat it onto the face with care," Dr. Mazur says. When the danger of exposure is over, wash the areas where you applied DEET with soap and water.
Dr. Mazur doesn't recommend using products that combine DEET with sunscreens. "It's difficult to control how much of exactly what you're using."
The CDC also recommends two other mosquito repellants: picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus. These recently approved repellants offer protection similar to low concentrations of DEET, when used in similar concentrations. The CDC is hopeful that with three choices, people will better protect themselves.
As a repellants, DEET, picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus repel some types of ticks, but permethrin kills ticks on contact, so it may be helpful to spray permethrin on clothes when playing or working in an area with lots of ticks. Permethrin is used as a spray for clothing only -- not for the skin.
Banish the bugs
For mosquitoes, use an insect repellent when needed. DEET, picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus are recommended by the CDC. Read and follow the directions with care. Don't let children apply repellants to themselves.
Get rid of standing water where mosquitoes and other insects can breed.
Have kids avoid insect-prone areas in the early morning and late evening.
Dress children in long sleeves and long pants when appropriate. Have them wear a hat and keep long hair pulled back.
Dress children in light colored clothes.
Make sure windows screens are in good repair.
When hiking, stay on cleared trails to avoid ticks.
Check for ticks after you or your child has been outdoors. Do a thorough search for ticks, looking in particular behind the ears and along the hairline. It can take a tick up to 48 hours to pass on an infection, so the sooner a tick is found, the better your chances of avoiding illness.