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Keep Kids Safe from Bugs

Lyme disease. Rocky Mountain spotted fever. West Nile virus. Flying fiends and crawling critters can spread such diseases with a bite.

Few cases put kids' lives at risk, say experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Still, some insects can threaten children's health, and you'd be wise to take precautions.

Many products seek to prevent bug bites, but one that can be applied to skin is very effective: DEET (usually listed on labels as N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide). The AAP recommends using products with no more than 30 percent DEET on children 2 months of age and older who will be exposed to insects that might cause diseases.

Longer protection

The AAP says that DEET seems as safe in concentrations of 30 percent as in concentrations of 10 percent. Products containing more DEET provide longer, but not better, protection. Products that contain about 10 percent DEET are effective for about two hours, the AAP says. Products that contain about 24 percent DEET protect, on average, for about five hours. Products that contain more than 30 percent DEET do not offer much added benefit and are not recommended for children. One prudent approach, the AAP suggests, would be to select the lowest concentration effective for the amount of time your children will spend outdoors.

The CDC also recommends picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus. These repellants offer protection similar to low concentrations of DEET, when used in similar concentrations.

As  repellants, DEET, picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus repel some types of ticks, but permethrin kills ticks on contact, so it may be helpful to spray permethrin on clothes when playing or working in an area with lots of ticks. Permethrin is used as a spray for clothing only -- not for the skin.

Banish the bugs

  • For mosquitoes, use an insect repellent when needed. DEET, picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus are recommended by the CDC. Read and follow the directions with care. Don't let children apply repellants to themselves.

  • Get rid of standing water where mosquitoes and other insects can breed.

  • Have kids avoid insect-prone areas in the early morning and late evening.

  • Dress children in long sleeves and long pants when appropriate. Have them wear a hat and keep long hair pulled back.

  • Dress children in light colored clothes.

  • Make sure windows screens are in good repair.

  • When hiking, stay on cleared trails to avoid ticks.

  • Check for ticks after you or your child has been outdoors. Do a thorough search for ticks, looking in particular behind the ears and along the hairline. It can take a tick up to 48 hours to pass on an infection, so the sooner a tick is found, the better your chances of avoiding illness.