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Keeping The Bugs Away

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

It’s that time of year again when the bugs start to return from their “off season vacations” and we all start to realize that there are bites appearing all over children’s bodies! I am already seeing worried parents bringing in their sweet toddlers with multiple bites on their arms and legs. No, these are not chickenpox (which typically start on the trunk).

The best way to prevent bites from mosquitoes, mites, chiggers, flies and fleas is by using an insect repellent.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using bug sprays in children older than 2 months of age when necessary for preventing insect bites while outdoors.

The most common insect repellent is DEET, which has been studied for over 50 years.  Most of the OTC bug sprays contain DEET in different strengths. The higher the concentration of DEET, which ranges from 5 – 30% (or even higher in certain products), the greater the protection and length of effectiveness. I would always start with a lower concentration (Off Skintastic 5 – 10% DEET) which typically provides protection for 1 – 2 hours, and would use a higher concentration product as needed.

With concentrations of DEET above 50% (not recommended for children), the effectiveness and duration of protection actually plateaus, so there is really no benefit of using higher concentration products, even for avid adult hikers etc.

Another product which was approved for use in the US about 5 years ago is picardin.  Picardin provides similar protection in both duration and effect to DEET.  Cutter, Skin So Soft and Off all have  some products containing 7-10% picardin. The advantage to picardin containing products is that they are odorless (unlike DEET) and also do not feel as greasy on the skin and are less likely to cause skin irritation and damage to fabrics and plastics.  With all products you must read the label to see what you are getting!

There has been some recent data on the use of natural products such as oil of eucalyptus which the CDC has found to be comparable in its duration of effectiveness to lower concentrations of DEET in preventing mosquito bites, but also may work well against ticks (Repel).  It may be poisonous if ingested in large quantities and should not be used in children younger than 3 years of age.

Other studies have found that 2% soybean oil (Bite Blocker for Kids)  has similar levels of protection to products containing the 5 – 15% range of DEET, and may provide up to 90 minutes of protection from those pesky mosquitoes.

Trying to choose the appropriate product may depend on which bugs are particularly bothersome to you, which product seems to work best for your child and is tolerated well, and lastly the circumstance of your exposure. It might be appropriate to try a natural product to start and for lengthy exposure in particularly “buggy” areas like swamps, woods camping etc, to go with a DEET or picardin product.

More info on insect repellants coming!  Plenty more to chat about.

Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue right now!

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