Q. Over the past few weeks, mosquitoes have made it difficult for the kids to play outside. Are insect repellents safe for children or is it better to deal with mosquito bites?
A: A mosquito bite is more than just a nuisance because mosquitoes can spread certain diseases. This summer in particular, mosquitoes are thriving because of the rain.
It’s crucial to use insect repellent properly. DEET is one of the most common active ingredients in insect repellents. The concentration of DEET varies between products, typically ranging from 10 to 30 percent. Using a higher concentration of DEET does not increase its efficacy, but it does make it effective for a longer time.
For example, a product containing 10 percent DEET lasts about 2 hours, while 30 percent DEET is effective for 6-8 hours. DEET has been used for more than 40 years and has a high safety profile.
Another chemical often found in insect repellents is Permethrin, but it should never be applied directly to the skin. It can be used to saturate clothing and camping equipment, such as sleeping bags or tents.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus is a safe alternative to DEET. Insect repellents containing 20 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus can be as effective as those with low concentrations of DEET. Oil of eucalyptus may cause skin or eye irritation and is not approved for use on children younger than 3. It is also not recommended as an alternative to DEET in malaria-infested areas.
Other important tips when applying insect repellents:
• Apply to exposed skin and clothing only.
• Do not apply to a small child’s hands, since he may place his hands in his mouth.
• For infants, use mosquito netting on the carrier, or just avoid mosquito situations.
• Do not apply DEET on children younger than 2 months.
• Children should be bathed and clothing should be washed after each application.