Help- the Mosquitoes are eating my children!

One more thing to love about Dallas summers…. mosquitoes. The mild winter has thrust us into an early mosquito season and no doubt you have already noticed them buzzing in your ears. The problem with mosquitoes besides being annoying and painful is that they can carry diseases as well. Luckily in Dallas, we do not have to worry about malaria or dengue fever but we do have to worry about West Nile Virus. Our city has set out traps and monitors the mosquitoes. When they identify mosquitoes that carry this rarely but potentially deadly disease the city will bring out their pesticide spraying trucks. This is usually done in the middle of the night and with advance warning for residents. Until then, it is up to us to make sure we are limiting our children’s exposure to mosquitoes and adequately protecting them.

The frustrating thing for parents is that the most enjoyable time we can take our children outside in the summer is early in the morning and in the evening- the peak mosquito hours. So- here are a few things you can do to limit those mosquito bites for yourself and your munchkin.

–       dress appropriately: for peak hours try light weight, light colored long sleeves and pants- avoid floral or brightly printed sleeveless shirts and shorts. I’m thinking about a white long sleeved shirt and karate pants for my daughter.

–       For the non-mobile children who will be in a carseat or stroller outside, drape a mosquito net over them and you should be good to go. This is great especially in children under 2 months that you will not be able to use bug spray on.

–       Spray them a little, not a lot. See below about which spray to chose but for all of them- spray on top of clothes and exposed skin (not under clothes), do not spray on the face or hands of kids but rather spray it on your hands and gently rub it on their face and the tops of their hands and wrists.

–       If you are also going to be applying sunscreen- apply the sunscreen first and avoid combo sunscreen/insecticide products.

–       Keep your outdoor space clean. Drain all standing water and keep grass short to minimize mosquito breeding grounds.

–       After playing outside its time for a bath or shower to get the bug spray off and throw the clothes in the laundry.  Use fragrance free soap and detergent to make your children smell less desirable to the mosquitoes.

WHICH BUG SPRAY TO CHOSE:

DEET has been around since the 50s and is the most well studied and researched repellant. It is extraordinarily effective and has been approved for use in children above two months old by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control. DEET is available in multiple concentrations. You can select any concentration 30% or below for children based on how long you will be outside. You only want to apply this once per day- so make sure you are using a high enough concentration that you will not have to reapply. DEET toxicity is associated with inappropriate use of the insecticide by over application or ingestion or chronic use. You can prevent accidental ingestions or over applications by keeping the bug spray in a locked cabinet and not allowing children to apply it themselves.

Picardin is another popular, well studied repellant in popular products like Avon’s “Skin so soft”. It has been widely popular in Europe and Australia and recently in the United States. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 5-10% concentration applied once daily to children above 6 months.

Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) and PMD (the synthetic version) appear to be effective but are not well studied and the EPA does not recommend their use in children under three.

On the use of essential oils: there are some recipes for homemade insect repellants but most are not recommended in children less than 5 years old which is not very helpful because most parents are looking for a natural alternative to the chemical bug sprays in their young children and infants as well. My only problem with essential oils is that they actually can be very dangerous in their own right and they are not regulated by any agency. They are “natural” but have also been concentrated and suspended in an oil that can be toxic if ingested. So, I would not consider all of these oils as “natural and therefore safe” around my child.

I think I will purchase a DEET or Picardin containing bug spray for my family and just use a few sprays when I see mosquitoes but not necessarily using it everyday and every time we go outside. But I will make an effort to minimize our skin exposure from dusk to dawn when we are outside.

What about those fancy mosquito misting systems? The majority use permethrin (the synthetic version of pyrethrum- a chrysanthemum extract) or pyrethrum itself. As opposed to the above ingredients which are mosquito repellants, this ingredient is a pesticide that kills mosquitos and unfortunately some other “helpful” bugs like ladybugs. If you are going to use one of these systems you need to be aware that you cannot be outside while the misting system is in use. The EPA has considered these probably safe with the disclaimer that no pesticide is 100% safe. Personally, I would prefer to steer clear of pesticides, naturally derived or not, and keep my good bugs in the yard. (And save the money for the numerous shaved ices I will be buying this summer!)

This was lengthy but I hope helpful!

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