Summer is here and families are eagerly planning outdoor adventures. But beneath the serene backdrop of picnics and playgrounds mosquitos come out to play, too. While we often associate these insects with itchy discomfort, it is crucial to recognize the more serious ways mosquito bites may affect us and our children and how we can prevent those pesky bites in the first place.
While most mosquito bites are just a scratchy nuisance, some can prove more severe and lead to dangerous viruses.
Mosquitoes are notorious for carrying various diseases that can have severe consequences, especially for children.
- West Nile Virus: While often mild, West Nile virus can cause severe illness, particularly in individuals with weakened immune systems. Children with this infection may experience fever, headache, body aches, rash, and, in rare cases, neurological complications.
- Zika Virus: Although rare, the Zika virus can cause birth defects, including microcephaly, a condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than expected. Children born with microcephaly may face developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, and other neurological complications.
- Dengue Fever: Transmitted by the Aedes mosquito, dengue fever is a viral infection that can lead to severe flu-like symptoms, and, in some cases, hemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.
- Malaria: Although more prevalent in tropical regions, malaria still affects millions of people worldwide. Children under the age of five are particularly vulnerable to this parasitic disease, which can cause high fever, chills, fatigue, and potentially life-threatening complications.
Mosquito bites can trigger allergic reactions in some children, leading to swelling, redness, and itching beyond the site of the bite. In rare cases, anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction, may occur, causing difficulty breathing, dizziness, and a drop in blood pressure. Prompt medical attention is crucial in such cases.
Scratching and Secondary Infections
The itchiness from mosquito bites can overwhelm children, often leading to scratching and open wounds. These breaks in the skin provide an entry point for bacteria, increasing the risk of secondary infections such as cellulitis and impetigo. Parents should monitor these bites.
Protection and Prevention
Fortunately, there are several practical steps parents can take to protect their family from mosquito bites and reduce the associated risks.
- Mosquito Repellents: Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Follow the application instructions based on the child’s age. Apply the repellent to exposed skin and clothing, and avoid the eyes, mouth, and hands.
- Protective Clothing: When outdoors, dress children in lightweight, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, and closed-toe shoes. Also consider spraying clothing with permethrin, an insect repellent designed for fabrics.
- Mosquito Netting: When camping or sleeping outdoors, use mosquito netting to create a protective barrier around the sleeping area.
- Time and Location: Mosquitoes are most active during dawn and dusk, so try to limit outdoor activities during these hours. Additionally, avoid stagnant water sources and areas with dense vegetation, as they serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
- Screens: Make sure that windows and doors are screened in or completely sealed.