With spring and summer just around the corner, it’s time to review how you protect your kids (and yourself) from mosquito bites. While most bites are merely annoying, there is a tiny percentage of mosquitoes that carry disease-causing viruses, a percentage that may be increasing slightly with the emergence of Zika, West Nile and other viruses.
1. Your first line of defense against bites is ridding your surroundings of mosquitoes. This was the subject of our previous posting. To read it, go to http://kidstraveldoc.com/global-warmingdisease-carrying-mosquitoesprotecting-children/
Next is the use of insect repellents. Applying repellents and doing it correctly is not fun and games for children – or for you. It is time consuming, messy, expensive and annoying for all involved. Prepare yourself for frowns and complaints.
2. Use repellents containing one of the following active ingredients.
- Picaridin (also known as KBR 3023 and Bayrepel)
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD
No repellent bears the name of these ingredients. Check ingredient labels to see if they are present. These repellents have been tested and approved by government agencies, are safe for young children when used correctly, and are effective against mosquitoes – and some against ticks, fleas, and chiggers. (Repellents offer minimum, if any, protection against bees, wasps and hornets.) Little is known about the safety and effectiveness of the numerous other products on the market. Anyone can produce a substance and call it a repellent.
3. Read application instructions carefully. Check lower age limits and recommended concentrations of ingredients. DEET, for example, should not be used on infants less than two months of age; oil of lemon eucalyptus, not on infants under 3 years. The skin of young children is especially permeable to substances applied to it. DEET is the only approved repellent that comes in various concentrations; for children, use products that contain between 20 and 30% DEET.
4. The terms “natural” and “chemical free” have little meaning. Oil of lemon eucalyptus, for example, is “natural.” However, this doesn’t make it safer/better than repellents formulated in laboratories. (Poison ivy and deadly mushrooms are 100% natural. Vitamin C taken from oranges is identical to that synthesized by chemists.)
5. To apply repellents, smear or spray products on your hands and then rub it on your child’s skin. No need to place it under clothing; long pants and sleeves reduce the amount of repellent required. Wash off when no longer needed. Thin coats suffice; thicker coats do not increase protection. Avoid eyes, mouth, wounds or rashes. If accidentally applied to such areas, rinse with soap and water. Apply outdoors or in well-ventilated indoor areas. Seek help immediately if a child swallows a repellent.
6. Avoid products that combine insect repellents and sunscreens. While many situations call for both, the intervals of applications and other considerations make combinations impractical. Generally, apply sunscreens at least twenty minutes before exposure. Apply repellents just before going outside. Repellents may reduce the effectiveness of sunscreens. If both are needed, consider using a stronger sunscreen.
7. Familiarize yourself with one or two repellents. Products come in the form of lotions, creams, gels, aerosols, sticks and towelettes. Contact manufacturers, if necessary; most have websites. Know how long protection lasts; duration of effectiveness is generally shortened by hot weather, perspiration, swimming and other factors. Know how to store repellents. Most products have expiration dates. Using extremely old repellent may cause skin irritation and rashes.
8. It is not practical to use repellents on children every minute they are outdoors. Base your decision on season of the year, amount of vegetation in the play area, and amount of time the child spends outdoors. Check with local authorities regarding insect control programs, mosquito activity forecasts, and disease alerts. Mosquitoes are most active around dawn and dusk.
9. Use permethrin on clothing. Permethrin helps prevent insects from crawling under or biting through clothing. Once correctly applied, permethrin remains effective on clothing through many washings. Permethrin can also be sprayed on camping gear such as tents. Use permethrin for visits to areas with heavy concentrations of insects, like swamps and woods.
10. Miscellaneous. Buy repellents at home before traveling overseas. Especially in developing countries, products may be counterfeited and labels may not be in English. Repellents may be confiscated at airports if in carry-on baggage. Tell children to avoid areas that attract insects, garbage cans, flowerbeds and orchards, for example. Spray products may be flammable, should not be inhaled or used near food. Stop using a repellent if children start scratching or develop a rash.