Everything about summer is wonderful, and that's even more true when you're a kid.
Bike rides, beach days, hours and hours playing at the park — summer gives kids the permission to realize their deepest desire of essentially living outside, becoming perpetually dirty, and being in constant motion.
Plus there's ice cream.
But there's one downside to all that outdoor time: mosquitoes.
The pesky insects are common in most parts of Canada from May to September, and tend to bite more between dusk and dawn, according to Health Canada. However, they can bite at any time of day. And when they do, their bites aren't just itchy and annoying, but in Canada they can also transmit a rare but risky disease: West Nile virus.
The virus tends to be found in mosquitoes in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, according to the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS). Symptoms are usually similar to the flu, but in rare cases West Nile virus can also cause swelling of the brain, meningitis, or paralysis. Complications are much more common in adults, CPS notes, but adds that, "Still, it's possible for children to get very sick."
So, yeah, avoiding mosquito bites is probably a really good idea, and not just because of the itch (but that sucks, too).
How to avoid the pests
The best way to avoid mosquito bites is to reduce your exposure, according to CPS.
"Mosquitoes are most active between dusk and dawn, shelter in shady places during the day and breed in standing water," CPS noted in a practice point.
Even very small amounts of water attract them, they elaborated in a handout, so be sure to drain standing water from toys, flower pots, cans, buckets, barrels, and pool covers. CPS also recommends removing items, such as old tires, where water can collect. Clean out the water in children's wading pools often, as well as in decorative pools and bird baths. And be sure to clean out clogged gutters and cover rain barrels with screens, CPS said.
Health Canada also recommends limiting outdoor activities before dawn and after dusk.
Physical barriers to mosquitoes go a long way
If you're going to be outside when mosquitoes are active, wear long pants, long sleeves, and shoes and socks, Health Canada suggests.
"Wear loose clothes made of tightly woven materials that keep mosquitoes away from your skin, such as nylon or polyester," the agency said.
Avoid putting your kids in sandals, especially when mosquitoes are most active, CPS said. Light-coloured clothing is best because it doesn't attract mosquitoes as much as dark-coloured clothes, they said in their practice point. You can also consider tucking your kid's pants into their socks as an extra precaution. And don't forget a hat!
Make sure your windows all have screens (that are in good condition), and if you use a stroller or a playpen in an area with mosquitoes, cover them with a fine mesh netting, CPS said.
Use insect repellents
Only insect repellents that have been safety-approved and tested for their effectiveness are available for sale in Canada, according to Health Canada. Their ingredients can include DEET, icaridin, soybean oil, citronella oil, metofluthrin, p-Menthane-3,8-diol, and a mixture of essential oils.
Children should only be exposed to small amounts of DEET, CPS noted, and babies under six months of age should not be exposed to DEET at all. Children between six months and two years can use a repellent containing no more than 10 per cent DEET up to once a day, and children age two to 12 can use 10 per cent DEET up to three times a day. Children over age 12 can use a repellent with 30 per cent DEET.
Never spray insect repellent on a child's face, since it could get in their eyes, Health Canada warned. And never apply it to your child's hands, since they will likely touch their own eyes or mouth at some point.
There are alternatives to DEET
There's no evidence that DEET-free repellents are safer for kids, but a lot of parents prefer them, CPS said.
"Icaridin/picaridin has levels of efficacy similar to DEET in preventing mosquito and tick bites. Although it is widely used in Europe and in the United States, this repellent was only licensed in Canada in 2012," CPS said in its practice point.
Up to 20 per cent icaridin is considered safe for kids, CPS said. It should not be used on babies under six months of age, Health Canada warned. And repellents with citronella oil should not be used on infants or toddlers, the agency added. P-menthane 3,8-diol (also known as PMD or oil of eucalyptus) should not be used on kids under three. There's no age restriction on repellents containing soybean oil.
"Natural" repellents (such as those containing soybean oil, citronella oil, or PMD) may not work as well as products containing DEET or icaridin/picaridin, CPS said.
"Remember, just because a product is labelled 'natural' doesn't necessarily mean it is safe. In some cases they may cause skin or eye irritations."
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