Bug Off

More infants and children are bitten by mosquitoes than by any other insect. But parents often don’t notice the bites on babies and young children because they don’t look like they do on teens and adults.

When a mosquito stabs her needlelike mouthparts through the skin of her victim, she injects her saliva, which is teeming with digestive enzymes and anticoagulants. The first time a person is bitten, there is no reaction. With subsequent bites, he or she becomes sensitized to the foreign proteins, and small, itchy, red bumps appear about 24 hours later. This is the most common reaction in young children. After many more bites, a pale, swollen hive, or “wheal,” appears, and it’s followed by the red bump 24 hours later. This is a familiar reaction among older children and adolescents.

Preventing mosquito bites is the key to preventing illnesses such as West Nile virus, which has spread throughout the continental U.S. Despite this alarming/troublesome fact, most Americans don’t wear insect repellent or put it on their children. For those who don’t use repellents because they don’t want chemicals on their skin or don’t like the smell or feel of DEET repellents, oil of lemon eucalyptus may be just the ticket.

Oil of lemon eucalyptus, a natural, plant-based repellent was recommended as mosquito protection in 2005 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It can be about as effective as DEET, but products containing oil of eucalyptus lemon may need to be applied more often than conventional insect repellents (especially those that contain a high concentration of DEET). Concentrations don’t differ in how much they work, only in how long they work. Oil of lemon eucalyptus usually lasts from two to five hours, but it should be reapplied right away if mosquitoes resume biting. Certified organic formulations are available at health food stores like Whole Foods and Wild Oats.

If your kids are ten or younger, don’t let them apply insect repellent themselves; instead, apply it to your own hands and rub them on your kids’ exposed skin, avoiding the eyes and mouth. Forgo their hands if they are often in their mouth.

Here are some additional tips for avoiding mosquitoes.

  • Many species of mosquito prefer biting at dusk, early evening and dawn. It gets worse when the weather is hot or humid. Avoid playing/being outdoors during your area’s peak biting hours.
  • Mosquitoes are attracted to things that remind them of mammal flesh and nectar, their two primary food sources. When outdoors, wear clothing that covers most of your body and avoid bright florals. Khaki, beige and olive hold no special allure for mosquitoes.
  • However, mosquitoes are attracted to certain body odors, so be aware of the fragrances in your soaps, shampoos and lotions.
  • Citronella candles may be useful when your children are playing outside.
  • Help reduce the number of mosquitoes in areas where your children play by draining sources of standing water such as flowerpots, birdbaths, swimming-pool covers, buckets, barrels, old tires and clogged rain gutters.
Published on: June 21, 2006
About the Author
Photo of Dr. Alan Greene
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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