Tag: mosquitoes

What to Do If a Mosquito Bites Your Child

Mosquito bites aren't good, but you don't have to get panicked about them.
Mosquito bites aren’t good, but you usually don’t have to get panicked about them.

Depending on where you live, a mosquito bite can be just a nuisance or it can lead to a life-threatening disease. From Chikungunya virus to Zika, most parents have learned to fear mosquito-borne diseases and because they hear about them so much, fear or even get panicked over mosquito bites.

While it is good to prepared and learn to avoid mosquito bites, you likely shouldn’t be panicked.

But even if your kids aren’t at risk for a mosquito-borne disease, it’s no fun getting bit by mosquitoes. Mosquito bites are itchy, and even when bites don’t get infected, they can leave behind crusted scabs that kids continue to pick at, over and over again.

Still no reason for panic or fear – just good reasons to learn to avoid mosquito bites.

Mosquitoes and Mosquito-Borne Diseases

Diseases that can be spread from the bite of a mosquito can include:

  • Chikungunya – can develop fever and severe and debilitating joint pain 3-7 days after a mosquito bite from Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes in countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans, Caribbean countries, and most recently, in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Dengue – can cause severe flu like symptoms, including fever, severe headache, eye pain, joint and muscle pain, rash, and bleeding, after a mosquito bite in one of at least 100 endemic countries, including many popular tourist destinations in Latin America, Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands. While there are cases in the US, it is important to keep in mind that “nearly all dengue cases reported in the 48 continental states were acquired elsewhere by travelers or immigrants.”
  • Eastern Equine encephalitis – a very rare disease, which is fortunate, as it is one of the most deadly of the mosquito-borne diseases. Transmission is in and around swampy areas, with most cases in Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.
  • Filariasis – spread by repeated mosquito bites over months to years, this disease is still found in at least 73 countries in parts Asia, Africa, the Western Pacific, and parts of the Caribbean and South America, these parasitic worms can grow and live in our lymph system
  • Japanese encephalitis – you can get a Japanese encephalitis virus infection after being bit by an infected Culex species mosquito in one of 24 countries in South-East Asia and the Western Pacific, especially if you are not vaccinated.
  • La Crosse encephalitis – rare, but can occur in the upper Midwestern and mid-Atlantic and southeastern states and can cause severe disease, including encephalitis, in children.
  • Malaria – although malaria was eliminated in the US in the early 1950s, we still see about 1,700 cases each year in returning travelers. That’s because malaria is a still a big problem around the world, from certain some states in Mexico to most of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
  • St. Louis encephalitis – can occur in eastern and central states, starts with mild symptoms, but can very rarely (between 1 to 12 cases a year) progress to encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).
  • West Nile – has now been found in every state except Alaska and Hawaii, but up to 80% of people don’t develop any symptoms and only 1% develop severe symptoms, with folks over age 60 years most at risk. Although West Nile season peaks in mid-August, cases are usually reported from late summer through early fall.
  • Western Equine encephalitis – rare, but deadly, like Eastern Equine encephalitis, and is found in states west of the Mississippi River
  • Yellow fever – a vaccine-preventable disease, the Yellow fever virus is still found in tropical and subtropical areas in South America and Africa.
  • Zika – is mostly a risk during pregnancy as it can cause serious birth defects, including microcephaly, so there are warnings to avoid high risk areas, which in addition to multiple countries and territories around the world, includes Brownsville, Texas and previously included Miami-Dade County, Florida

Won’t a long list of diseases get parent’s panicked? Only if they skip the part about where the mosquitoes that cause those diseases are active.

What to Do If a Mosquito Bites Your Child

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 Do you know what to do if a mosquito bites your child? Photo by James Gathany

If a mosquito bites your child, don’t panic. There is no reason to run to your pediatrician or the ER and get tested for West Nile or Zika.

That’s not to say a mosquito bite couldn’t send you to the ER, but it would likely only be if your child was severely allergic, with the bite causing an anaphylatic reaction. Fortunately, most bites just leave little red bumps that go away in a few days if you don’t scratch them too much.

So the key treatment after a mosquito bite is classically about relieving the symptoms of itching. As with other itchy rashes, you can do this by:

  • applying an OTC anti-itch cream (hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion) to the bite
  • taking an oral antihistamine, especially at night
  • applying a prescription steroid cream to help control itching

Also, keep your child’s finger nails short to minimize damage from scratching and wash the areas with soap and water to decrease the risk of secondary infections.

“Where you live, your travel history, and the travel history of your sex partner(s) can affect your chances of getting Zika.”

CDC on Know Your Zika Risk

In general, you should see your pediatrician if you have the symptoms of a mosquito-borne disease and have been in an area with risk of that disease.

Should you worry about dengue, West Nile, or Zika, etc?

  • Does your child live in an area where you can commonly find the mosquitoes that carry any of these diseases?
  • Did your child recently visit an area where you can commonly find the mosquitoes that carry any of these diseases?
  • Is your child a pregnant teen?
  • Is your teen sexually active?
  • Does your child have a chronic medical condition, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, or kidney disease?
  • Is your child a first- or second-generation immigrant from a malaria-endemic country who returned to their home country to visit friends and relatives?
  • Was your child at risk for a mosquito-borne disease and skipped taking preventative medications for malaria or skipped getting a Japanese encephalitis vaccine or a Yellow fever vaccine?

Again, see your pediatrician if your child had a mosquito bite and now has the symptoms of a mosquito-borne disease after being in an area with risk of that disease. This is especially important for anyone who is pregnant or with a chronic medical problem, as they might be at higher risk for severe disease. The elderly are more at risk too.

Preventing Mosquito Bites

Of course, whether you are traveling to the tropics or going for a walk in your neighborhood, your best bet is going to be trying to avoid mosquitoes and mosquito bites in the first place.

  • use insect repellent, which can protect your kids from tick bites too
  • wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when possible
  • get rid of standing water around your home – places where mosquitoes can breed
  • make sure windows and doors have screens or are kept shut to keep mosquitoes out of your home
  • instead of insect repellent, consider using mosquito netting to cover your infant’s stroller or carrier when outside, and especially when in high risk parts of the world, using insecticide treated bed nets

And review travel advisories before planning a trip to see if you need to take any additional precautions to avoid a mosquito-borne disease.

What to Know About Mosquitoes and Mosquito Bites

Mosquito-borne diseases, like dengue, West Nile, and Zika, can certainly be serious, but you likely don’t need to panic your child has gotten one of them every time he or she gets a mosquito bite.

More About Mosquitoes and Mosquito Bites

Safe and Effective Insect Repellents for Kids

While other measures are important too, insect repellents are typically the best way to protect your kids from biting insects and ticks.
While other measures are important too, insect repellents are typically the best way to protect your kids from biting insects and ticks. Photo by James Gathany.

As we become more and more aware of diseases that can spread from the bites of insects and ticks, it becomes important that we learn to protect our kids. Plus, itchy bites can turn into nasty scabs that your kids pick at over and over, leaving scars that might even get infected.

What should you do?

Insect Repellents for Kids

In addition to simply trying to avoid mosquitoes and ticks, which can be difficult, especially as your kids get older and spend more time outside, you should learn to protect them with insect repellents.

Are insect repellents safe for kids?

Despite all of the warning about chemicals and toxic pesticides that you might read on the internet, the answer is of course they are. In fact, many insect repellents can even be used on infants as young as age two months. And it is certainly better than your kids getting Chikungunya, Dengue, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, West Nile, or Zika. Or MRSA from an infected bite.

You do have to use them correctly though.

Choosing a Safe and Effective Insect Repellent

If they are using the new EPA label, your insect repellent will tell you how long it will protect your kids against mosquitoes and ticks.
If using the new EPA label, your insect repellent will tell you how long it will protect your kids against mosquitoes and ticks.

Which insect repellent should you use?

Although traditionally insect repellents with DEET have long been “considered the best defense against biting insects,” the CDC has now said that some other DEET-free alternative insect repellents may work as well as lower dose DEET, including those with 2-undecanone, Picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and 2% soybean oil.

Of course, that has led to a lot of new insect repellents on store shelves these days. And to a lot of confused parents trying to decide which is the best for their kids.

Don’t be one of them.

When choosing one of these insect repellents, start with the fact that none should be used on infants under two months of age and products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under age three years. Otherwise, choose the product best suited to your child’s needs, especially considering that:

  • no protection insect repellents should be avoided (garlic, vitamin B1, bug zappers, insect repellent wristbands)
  • shorter protection insect repellents last about two hours (less than 10% DEET, essential oils, 2-undecanone)
  • medium protection insect repellents last about 3 to 4 hours (20% DEET, 7% Picaridin)
  • longer protection insect repellents last about 5 hours or more (24% DEET, 15% Picaridin)

In addition to the active ingredient and it’s strength (how long it lasts), you can now decide if you want an insect repellent that sprays on smooth and dry and isn’t greasy, has a light, tropical scent, or is unscented. Or instead of a spray (pump or aerosol), you can even choose insect repellent wipes or a lotion.

Do keep in mind that the CDC advises that products above 30% DEET reportedly do not provide any extra protection, although it doesn’t keep stores from selling sprays with as much as 100% DEET. For other products, those with higher concentrations of DEET aren’t necessarily stronger, they simply provide longer protection.

So if you are going for a walk around the neighborhood with your preschoolers, some good choices might be:

  • Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus Towelettes (IR3535)
  • BioUD Spray (2-undecanone)
  • Buzz Away Spray (Citronella oil)
  • Cutter All Family Spray (7% DEET)
  • Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Spray
  • Cutter Natural Spray
  • Cutter Skinsations  (7% DEET)
  • OFF! FamilyCare II (5% Picaridin)
  • OFF! FamilyCare III (5% DEET)
  • OFF! FamilyCare IV (7% DEET)

There are many other brands too, including Sawyer, Repel, and discounted store brands from CVS, Target, and Walgreens, etc.

Using Insect Repellents on Kids

Now that you have chosen your insect repellent, be sure to use it safely.

That means reading the label and following the instructions carefully, being sure to:

  • only apply the proper amount of insect repellent to exposed skin or clothing
  • avoid applying insect repellent near your child’s eyes and mouth, on cuts, irritated skin, or under your child’s clothing
  • wash off the insect repellent when you return indoors
  • avoid spraying insect repellent inside your home or car, directly on your child’s face (apply to your own hands and then rub it on their face) and hands (they might rub their eyes or put their hands in their mouth), or allowing them to spray it on themselves
  • instead of insect repellent, consider using mosquito netting to cover your infant’s stroller or carrier when outside, and especially when in high risk parts of the world, using insecticide treated bed nets

It can also help to mosquito-proof your home and work to control mosquitoes and ticks where your child plays. And of course, have your child cover up and dress to avoid getting bit when possible, with long socks and clothing that covers their arms and legs.

Facts About Insect Repellents for Kids

Other things to know about insect repellents for kids include that:

  • Protect times can be different for protection against mosquitoes vs ticks.
  • IR3535, also known as Insect Repellent 3535, is a synthetic biopesticide (ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate). It was once only found in Avon Skin So Soft products, but can now be found in other brands too.
  • It is the chemical in oil of lemon eucalyptus, PMD or para-menthane-3,8-diol, that gives it pesticidal properties.
  • Avoid combination sunscreen/insect repellent products. Use separate products instead, applying the sunscreen first and reapplying the sunscreen every few hours as necessary. Since you don’t typically reapply insect repellents (unless you are going to be outside for a really long time), if your child starts  to get bitten, next time, you will likely need to consider using an insect repellent with a different active ingredient or at least one with a stronger concentration that might last longer.
  • Although available, insect repellent lotions are often harder to find in stores.
  • In addition more standard insect repellents, permethrin treated clothing is available.
  • Don’t be fooled by natural insect repellents that ‘smell amazing’ and say that they aren’t “full of chemicals.” They likely contain para-menthane-3,8-diol, ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate, or other chemicals. While they are DEET-free and some may be natural, they aren’t free of chemicals. And keep in mind that many natural insect repellents are non-EPA registered.
  • Call poison control (1-800-222-1222) if your child gets the insect repellent in their mouth or eyes or has a reaction.

Although they are the best protection, since insect repellents aren’t perfect, you should also learn how to remove ticks and the symptoms of mosquito and tickborne diseases.

Yet more protection options include the Dengue vaccine (not available in the US yet though) and preventative medications for malaria.

What to Know About Insect Repellents for Kids

When used properly, insect repellents are safe and effective and the best way to help your kids avoid getting eaten up by mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks and other things that like to bite kids.

More About Insect Repellents for Kids