Kids Love Dr. Barton

Beware of Mosquitos and Ticks!

by Dr. Douglas Barton, M.D., Pediatrician 05/18/2009

‘Tis the season to be rugged! I spent my weekend with the family on our annual campout. We like to tent camp and pretend that we’re “roughing it.” Never mind that the bathroom and showers are less than 100 yards from the camp site! Anyhow, when my son pulled the tick off his neck, I was reminded that spending time outdoors has its fair share of medical hazards this time of year.

Ticks and mosquitoes are the big problems when we head outdoors. Both of these ravenous creatures are capable of carrying a multitude of diseases. Ticks can carry Lyme disease, ehrlichia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and a variety of other more obscure illnesses. Most of these illnesses require the tick to be attached for a few days before they can pass the disease, but it is still a good idea to remove ticks as soon as they are spotted. Gently pull the tick with a pair of flat tweezers as close to the head as possible. It will require firm consistent pulling to get the tick to let go. Inadvertently jerking the tick will cause the head to break off and remain in the skin, which could lead to a skin infection. Do not try to burn the tick out. You may end up with a child with a burn that has a tick in the middle of it!  And you cannot suffocate a tick by using oil or Vaseline. They must be gently pulled.

The primary concern from mosquitoes is West Nile virus, a virus that can cause fever and headache, confusion and disorientation, very similar to meningitis. There are a couple of other mosquito-borne viruses that produce very similar symptoms in the United States, but they are less common.

Clearly, the best method of taking care of all these problems is prevention. DEET is the short hand name of the primary chemical in insect repellents in the United States. It has been extensively tested for safety by a number of organizations. It will repel mosquitoes and ticks and should be used any time your children are in an area where either are present.  (It is not for use in children under two months old.)  An alternative to putting it directly on the skin is to spray clothing with it. The 10% concentration is probably appropriate for children, but should be reapplied every couple of hours.

Other methods of insect-bite prevention include wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants when in the woods or fields. A thorough “tick check” when returning from these areas can spot both crawling and embedded ticks. Mosquitoes do prefer to “hunt” in the mornings and evenings. Avoiding outdoor activity at dusk or dawn may also help prevent bites. These basic steps can help prevent a host of difficult issues. Enjoy the beautiful spring outdoors, but when you do so, be aware of the tiny creatures that can cause harm to you or your children.




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