This summer mosquitos are causing more than an annoying itch. The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex has been invaded by the West Nile Virus carrying mosquitos and they are terrorizing the parents of my patients!
Last night my husband and I watched the evening news. As story after story reported our cities varying counter assaults, I looked at my husband and said, “This is really going to freak people out.” My stepson, with his patented perfect timing, walked into the room scratching a red bump on his arm and announced, “Hey something bit me.”
My stomach dropped. While I went in search of an antihistamine in our medicine cabinet, I reminded myself that usually only a small percentage of mosquitos in any area where carrier mosquitos have been found are infected with the West Nile virus. According to the CDC, 80 percent of people bitten by a mosquito infected with West Nile virus never develop symptoms.
Among those who are bitten and infected 1 in 5 develop mild flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches sometimes skin rash. These symptoms may last for a few days and are easily managed with over the counter medications.
Less than 1 in 100 (that is less than 1 percent) of those infected develop a severe illness with West Nile meningitis or encephalitis (swelling of the brain and surrounding tissue.) Armed with the facts I breathed a sigh of relief and reassured my stepson he would be fine.
What can we do to protect ourselves and our kids? We need to prevent the mosquitos from biting and make sure we do not have areas around our homes that invite mosquitos to breed. We need to use the Four Dʼs: Drain, Dress, Dusk, DEET.
- Drain all free standing water. Mosquitos LOVE free standing water. The murkier the better. It is their favorite breeding ground. Check flower pots, bird baths, swimming pools, gutters, drain pipes. Drain or clean out anywhere water collects.
- Dress in long sleeves and long pants. Easier said than done in 100 degree Texas heat but the reality is mosquitos only bite skin they can reach. Maybe opt for longer shorts and wear socks and tennis shoes instead of sandals.
- Dusk (and Dawn) is the mosquitos’ favorite time of day so take extra precautions if the kids go outside during these times of the day.
- DEET Use insect repellant. DEET has been tested and approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Remember you only want to apply repellants to exposed skin or clothing and avoid contact with your eyes and mouth. DEET concentrations vary from product to product from less than 10 to more than 30 percent. The higher the concentration the longer lasting the repellant.
Safety has not been related to concentration. We do not recommend DEET products under 2 months of age. Instead you could try mosquito netting over your infant carrier.
You can also use repellants with picaridin or biopesticide repellants like Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (ages 3 and up). Regardless of the type of repellant used; remember to wash the product completely off your child’s skin once you are indoors.
If despite your best efforts your child does get a bite you can give him or her an over the counter oral antihistamine or apply topical 1percent hydrocortisone creams to help relieve the itch. As with all medicines, if you are not sure about the dose check with your pharmacist or pediatrician. If your child develops high fever, body aches or headaches it is time for a visit to your pediatrician.
Remember severe West Nile virus infection is extremely rare and armed with the Four Dʼs we can fight back the terror and, hopefully, take the bite out of this summer.