Battling Backyard Biting Bugs

For anyone going on an African safari this summer, you might want to consider the following question: What animal is responsible for the most illness and death each year in Africa? Perhaps you would be surprised to find out it is not the mighty lion or camouflaged crocodile or slithering snake.  It is, by far, the itty bitty mosquito. While it may be small, the mosquito packs a punch as a carrier of significant disease: Malaria, Yellow Fever, Chikingunya and Rift Valley Fever. Did you know that a child dies of Malaria every 30 seconds in Africa?

What about mosquitoes here at home? The good news is that we don’t have the mosquitoes that carry the African diseases in the United States. However, we do have mosquito-borne viruses that cause disease of a different variety: West Nile virus, Eastern and Western equine encephalitis*, St Louis encephalitis and Lacrosse encephalitis. Mosquitoes are not carriers of Lyme disease—that distinction goes to ticks, who also spread Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (bacteria).

What can we do to protect ourselves from mosquitoes and ticks and other biting insects? We can use insect repellent. Some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics Parent’s Guide to Insect Repellent:

  • Use products containing between 10-30% DEET on children–Products containing DEET are the most effective at preventing insect bites. The percentage of DEET is not an indicator of potency but rather suggests length of effectiveness. In other words, 10% DEET lasts for approximately 2 hours whereas 24% DEET lasts 5 hours. It is not recommended to use preparations stronger than 30% on children
  • Do not use insect repellent on children under 2 months
  • Do not spray repellent directly onto child’s face–Either spray it onto a paper towel then wipe on child’s face or apply to parent’s hands then rub onto child’s face (being sure to wash your hands afterwards)
  • Wash insect repellent off child’s skin once child has returned inside
  • Do not use combination products that contain both insect repellent and sunscreen–The sunscreen will likely need to be reapplied before the insect repellent and you will end up using more repellent than you need
  • Do not apply permethrin-containing products directly to the skin–Permethrin is intended to be applied to clothing or equipment (e.g. tents). Used properly, it is very effective at repelling ticks

For more information on insect repellents, other insect prevention awareness and some signs and symptoms of the most common insect-borne disease in the U.S., check out the following link: http://patiented.aap.org/content.aspx?aid=5556

*Encephalitis=brain swelling: HA, lethargy

– Megan Richardson, Family Nurse Practitioner

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