By Sally Robinson and Keith Bly
As everyone knows, mosquitoes carry several diseases, which can be very dangerous, and this is in addition to their irritating bites.
There are many types of mosquitoes, and more than 80 different species live in Texas. Fortunately, not all these species carry disease. Unfortunately, the ones that do, are usually tiny, their sting is usually unnoticed and they don’t have that irritating buzz.
Mosquitoes zero in on carbon dioxide, a natural byproduct of breathing. They can sense this expired carbon dioxide from up to 100 feet away, so we don’t have much chance of sneaking quietly out to the front swing these summer evenings without broadcasting our presence to the neighborhood mosquitoes. Nevertheless, parents can take some concrete steps to protect their children and themselves.
First, avoidance is the best protection. Check your yard to spot cans, pails or any container-like depression that might hold stagnant water. Dispose of these nuisances and fill in ditches and holes where mosquitoes might breed. And check all screens and screen doors for holes.
Keep children indoors during early morning and evening hours. Dress children in light-colored, long sleeves and long-legged clothing so less skin is exposed. Mosquitoes and other bugs are drawn to floral scents, so change to an unscented soap; avoid perfumes or scented lotions and deodorants.
Two over-the-counter products, one a mosquito repellent and the other a product with both repellent and insecticide, provide the best overall barrier to protect your children. Generally, repellents with DEET are superior to “natural” products using citronella or soybean oils.
DEET functions to produce a vapor layer distasteful to mosquitoes extending about 1.5 inches above the skin. The product comes in concentrations of from less than 10 to 100 percent, so check the label on the product you choose. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that DEET should not be used on babies under the age of two months. Older children can use DEET concentrations up to 30 percent. The higher the concentration, the longer it last. A percentage of 4.75 will last about 1.5 hours. Apply to exposed skin but never put DEET around the eyes, lips or on hands.
Spray a product such as Cutter Outdoorsman Gear Guard containing permethrin — a derivative of the chrysanthemum flower — on sun caps, clothing, sleeping bags or tents if camping, but never on skin. The combination of the two will ward off most mosquitoes for four to six hours. Permethrin for clothes, DEET for skin.
Above all, remain calm as announcements of new mosquito diseases occur. Mosquito-borne disease in this country is rare and rarely causes significant illnesses in children. Your child is in much greater danger when he skates or bikes or rides his scooter without proper protective gear or is unsupervised around water.
Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital, and Keith Bly is an associate professor of pediatrics and director of the UTMB Pediatric Urgent Care Clinics. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.