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Protect your child from itchy, annoying bug bites

Author: Stefanie Elliott, MedSchoolForParents.com Editor
What every parent knows is that one pesky mosquito can ruin the entire family’s vacation. A minute of “weakness” and minutes later the itchiness begins. Something you never sign up for when you go away.
If your family plans to spend time outdoors or travel this coming season, protect all members of the family against bug bites. Insects like mosquitos, ticks, fleas, and flies can transmit bacteria and viruses causing diseases such as Malaria, West Nile Virus, Dengue Fever, and Lyme disease. So, it is a good idea to apply insect repellent to both yourself and your children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends applying insect repellent to children 2 months of age and older. If younger, place a netting overtop carriers, strollers, and cribs. Repellents last for various durations, depending on the concentration of the active ingredient. They should be reapplied once the effect wears out sometimes within 1-2 hours, and especially on warm days, if your child is actively playing and sweating, or after water exposure.
So which repellents should my child use?

It is important to look at the ingredients and their concentrations when you go shopping. Products with less than 10% of active ingredient last 1–2 hours and need to be reapplied frequently. Those with higher concentrations tend to last longer, but it doesn't mean that they are better at keeping bugs away. Some products are better for mosquitos, like DEET, whereas permethrin takes the crown when keeping ticks away.

DEET (abbreviation of the chemical N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) is safe and recommended for children because it is the most effective insect repellent. The higher the concentration, the longer it lasts, which is anywhere from 2-5 hours. The 10% concentration lasts for 2 hours, 24% concentration lasts for 5 hours, and above 30% doesn't add extra time. Do not use a product that has a DEET concentration greater than 30% in children. Despite worries about toxicity, DEET actually has a great safety record. Over the last 50 years there have been 43 case reports of toxicity, most of which involved overuse or incorrect use.

Picaridan lasts anywhere from 2-8 hours, depending on the concentration. The 5% lasts 2-4 hours, 10% lasts 6-8 hours, 20% lasts 8 hours. Studies have shown that it has low to relatively no toxicity and is generally safe for use in children. Some pros are that it is odorless and isn’t sticky. It is good for protecting against mosquitos, ticks and flies.  

Primethrin must only be applied to your child's clothing, camping gear (tents, sleeping bags) and never to skin. Primethrin is excellent for protection against tick bites—it is better than DEET. It can last for a very long time, even after several washes. Make sure to plan in advance and apply to clothing or equipment 24–48 hours before use so they can dry. 

Natural Options

Some repellents are made from essential oils from plants: citronella, soybean, cedar, and lemon eucalyptus oils.
Lemon eucalyptus oil is not advisable for use in children until age three because it has not been studied extensively in that age group. It usually lasts for 2 hours. Lemon eucalyptus oil will protect against mosquito bites, but may not protect against tick bites. Although not common, repellents made from essential oils may cause allergic reactions, so it is important to watch out for this after applying the product. 
A Lot of People Suggest Eating Garlic  - Really?
This would be the ultimate repellent because it’s natural, but research has not shown that it works that well. Some studies show that with long-term consumption it has an effect, but we don’t know how much garlic your family would need to eat. It may be an idea to supplement garlic-filled recipes with other preventative insect bite measures.

What about the convenient sun tan lotion and insect repellent combinations?

Avoid buying the sun tan lotion and insect repellent combined products because sun tan lotions needs to be reapplied more often than repellent. Repellents may reduce the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) activity in sun tan lotion, so it is best to use separate products. 

TOP TIPS for applying Insect Repellent to your child:
1   Apply repellent outdoors to avoid inhaling the chemicals.
2   Apply repellent to your child's clothes and their exposed skin. You don't need to apply to skin under clothing because applying more than necessary doesn't provide extra benefit. 
3   When applying to the face, apply it first to your hands, then to your child's face. Do not apply to your child's eyes, mouth, cuts and open wounds.
4   Do not apply repellent to your child's hands, as they may wipe it into their eyes or mouth. 
5   Remember to reapply if your child is sweating on a hot day or playing in water, as well as when the product wears off.
6   When finished with the days' activities, wash exposed skin with soap and water and wash the clothes before wearing them again. 
Other ways to prevent bites:
1) Wear protective clothing such as a wide brimmed hat, pants and long-sleeved shirts. As well, tucking in long-sleeved shirts and pant legs into socks, and wearing closed-toe shoes is recommended.
2) Avoid bright colors and flowered prints, scented hygiene products and perfumes, which insects seem to be attracted to.
3) When your child comes home from playing outside, look for ticks: Ticks are small! They are dark colored and can be the size of a poppy seed, so look carefully.

4) Make it a routine to check for ticks every night during bathe time, where you can visualize the whole body. 
5) Install door and window screens in your home and check to make sure they are in good condition.
Updated  03/08/2017


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