With mosquito-borne illnesses such as West Nile, and now with the extra concern of the Zika virus, it’s vitally important to protect your kids from insect bites when they’re outside.
How Young is Too Young for Insect Repellent
If you’re looking to help your children skirt the Zika virus, you’ll need an insect repellent with DEET. The good news is there are several Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellents containing DEET that are safe for children. Unfortunately, they aren’t recommended for children younger than 2 months old.
If your child is old enough for insect repellent, make sure you cover their arms and legs with it and spray it into your hands to apply it gently to their face. For infants and toddlers, avoid putting it on their hands, as they often put their fingers in their mouths or rub their eyes. Also, if you’ll be using sunscreen, make sure to apply sunscreen before insect repellent.
The Details about DEET
DEET is a colorless oily liquid used in insect repellents because of its proven effectiveness to keep people safe from a larger percentage of bites. Its purpose is to repel insects – not kill them – and DEET is currently the active ingredient in most insect repellents. The chemical can come in different concentrations (between 4 percent and 100 percent) within each type of repellent, so look on the packaging to check for the concentration. And remember, a higher concentration doesn’t indicate it will work better, but rather describes how long the product will be effective. This means if you have two otherwise identical insect repellents, but one contains 10 percent DEET and the other contains 30 percent, you will have to reapply the product containing 10 percent more frequently.
Products containing DEET are not only considered safe, but are recommended for use by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when trying to avoid mosquito-borne viruses such as Zika or West Nile. In rare cases, as with any product, some people experienced minor allergic reactions. Rashes, small blisters and skin irritation on your child following the application of a repellent may indicate that they have an allergy to the product.
Too Young for Insect Repellent? We’ve Got You Covered
The best course of action for avoiding Zika or other mosquito-transmitted viruses is to stay indoors if your child is too young to use repellent, but that’s not always feasible. If you have to take your baby outside and they are too young for insect repellent, keep them in loose-fitting, long-sleeved clothing. Dress them in socks and shoes instead of sandals or barefoot and avoid the hours when bugs are busiest – from dusk to the early morning hours. Dress them in muted colors that won’t draw attention from bugs. Also, try to avoid using scented lotions as these can attract insects – including mosquitos.
Dr. Melanie Williams is a pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Pasadena Clinic. Her clinical interests include developmental disorders and delays, blood disorders and normal development of babies and toddlers.