Q. With all of the press about Zika virus, I am so worried about mosquitoes. What is the best way to protect my family from mosquito bites?
A. As you are aware, a mosquito bite is more than just a nuisance because mosquitoes can spread certain diseases. For this reason, proper use of insect repellent is an important part of summer safety. DEET is one of the most common active ingredients in insect repellents. The concentration of DEET varies between products and typically ranges between 10% - 30%. Using a higher concentration of DEET does not increase its efficacy; however it does make it effective for a longer period of time. For example, a product containing 10% DEET lasts about 1-2 hours while 30% DEET is effective for 6-8 hours. DEET has been used for over 40 years and has a high safety profile.
Another chemical that may be found in insect repellents is Permethrin; however, Permethrin 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% oil of lemon eucalyptus have been shown to 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 in children who are less than three years of age. It is also not recommended as an alternative to DEET in malaria-infested areas.
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Other important tips for application of 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 and avoidance measures
- Do not apply DEET on children who are less than 2 months of age
- Children should be bathed and clothing should be washed after each application
Dr. Rhonda Patt is a pediatrician with Charlotte Pediatric Clinic and past president of the Charlotte Pediatric Society. Dr. Patt answers questions from local parents in her weekly "Ask the Doctor" blog. If you’ve got a question you’d like answered please email Dr. Patt at: firstname.lastname@example.org and put “pediatrician” in the subject line.