The West Nile virus, a mosquito-borne illness, has made its way to the Baltimore area. Recently several dead crows infected with the virus have been found. So far this year, no Maryland residents have been infected.
The risk of contracting West Nile virus is small, yet you can decrease your risk and a child's risk even more by using insect repellent. "The most effective type of repellent on the market contains DEET, a pesticide that works by masking our release of carbon dioxide and body odor. That's what mosquitoes are attracted to," says Robert Edelman, M.D., professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of the Travelers' Health Clinic at the University of Maryland Medical Center. "When putting insect repellent on childrenuse a product with DEET concentration of no more than 10 percentadds Dr. Edelman.
DEET was developed by the U.S. government in the 1940's. Its chemical name is N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide. Some people worry about the toxicity of DEET. Therefore, they may opt to use insect repellents that contain plant oils, like citronella, soybean or eucalyptus, as the active ingredients. Studies of these products, however, show they are not as effective as DEET in preventing mosquito bites.
Repellents vary, they come in many different forms, including liquids, creams, lotions and sticks. They also have different concentrations of the active ingredient. "It's important to read the label and closely follow the directions," says Dr. Edelman.
It is not necessary to put insect repellent on children every time they venture outdoors. Dr. Edelman says mosquitoes are most active in the early morning and late evening, making these good times to consider repellent. Also, he says it is a good idea to use repellent when children play in a wooded area or near water. "Avoid applying the repellent to a child's face or hands to reduce eye and mouth contact, and never put it on a cut or irritated skin," he says.
Mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors. Dressing children in light colors, like white or tan as opposed to navy blue or black, may decrease their chance of being bitten. In addition, pants, long sleeve shirts and socks reduce the amount of exposed skin, cutting the risk of getting a mosquito bite.
In the United States, mosquitoes are mostly just a nuisance, but in much of the world, their bite can cause serious illnesses and even death. Overseas, almost 700 million persons are infected each year with mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria, dengue fever and encephalitis.
Less than a hundred Americans have reportedly contracted West Nile virus since it was first discovered in the United States two years ago. When infected with the virus, most people don't show any signs, but some may have flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. The most serious consequence of the virus, and fortunately the rarest, is encephalitis, a potentially deadly inflammation of the brain.
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