BY LINDA STEVENSON, PhD, RN, FNP-C, PEDIAQ SENIOR NURSE PRACTITIONER
We live in the south, and this year, so do an increasing number of mosquitos. We hear cautions daily for West Nile virus (causing flu-like symptoms, skin rash & swollen glands and rarely encephalitis) and Chikungunya (another mosquito borne virus characterized by fever and joint pain), scary stuff.
Remember, when it comes to mosquito bites, prevention is best, but what about the DEET in the repellants? The American Academy of Pediatrics has said DEET up to 30% concentration is safe for children. It should not be used in infants under 2 months old though.
You can apply insect repellant to exposed skin, clothing, and shoes. Be careful not to apply it to the hands or face on young children or on any skin areas with cuts, scrapes, or eczema. If your child is going to be outside for over an hour apply repellant with 30% DEET as it lasts longer, but if your child is going to be outside for an hour or less they only need 10% DEET. When your child comes back inside to play wash off the insect repellant with soap and water, then reapply later when they go out again.
What are the alternatives if you don’t want to use DEET containing repellants? There are two that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has said are effective: those repellants that contain Picardin, a chemical compound, or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, a plant based compound. They have been used in Europe, Asia and Australia for years. The main precaution is that Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus should not be used in children under age 2.
How do you know what is in your insect repellant? Those repellants containing DEET will say DEET and the percentage or N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide. Picardin’s chemical name is KBR3023, and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus may be listed as PMD or P-methane diol.
What do you do for insect/mosquito bites? Most bites are irritating but they disappear in a day or two. There may be small bumps that are red and itchy. Minor reactions can be first washed with soap and water, then apply a cool pack or a cool wet cloth to the area. Calamine containing lotions can help decrease the itching. If there are many bites your pediatrician may recommend a non-sedating antihistamine. It is not recommended to use an antihistamine skin cream or spray over large body areas – children’s skin absorbs large amounts and they can have a toxic reaction particularly if you also give them an oral antihistamine. Also, these products can cause contact sensitivity after being in the sun. If the bite area keeps swelling, has increased redness, and becomes hard and tender, then it is time to call your pediatrician.
Remember to limit outside activity at dusk and dawn when mosquitos are most active, wear loose light colored clothing outdoors, remove all standing water around your home, use insect repellants whenever you are outside, and you will be defending yourself against those pesky mosquitos.