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Safety Facts About Insect Repellents – and Choosing the Best Brands

As millions of American children head off to summer camps or outdoor family get-togethers, many parents may wonder how to protect their youngsters from the varieties of insects that might be found at camping grounds and parks.

These days, we all have even more reason to worry about bugs than normally, as infestations from the potentially deadly West Nile virus continue to occur in different parts of the country.

A good insect repellent can protect you and your family from diseases carried by mosquitoes and ticks. Mosquitoes can carry the West Nile virus, and ticks can transmit serious illnesses like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that consumers choose insect repellents with active ingredients that have been registered with the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA advises that the following registered ingredients offer longer-lasting protection: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and para-menthane-diol.

An ingredient that is registered with the EPA is not expected to produce harmful effects to human health or to the environment when used as the product label indicates.

The following are recommendations offered by the EPA, to help you use insect repellent sprays safely and effectively:

  • Follow directions on product label
  • Apply repellent only to exposed skin and/or clothing; do not apply repellent under clothing
  • Avoid spraying over cuts, wounds or irritated skin
  • Do not spray on eyes or mouth, and spray only lightly around earlobes
  • Do not allow young children to spray themselves. Spray child, avoiding child’s hands, as children may put hands in their eyes and mouth
  • Do not spray directly on face. Spray on hands, then apply to face
  • Applying spray heavily does not provide better protection; use only enough spray to cover exposed skin and clothing
  • Do not spray in enclosed areas
  • Do not spray near food
  • Reapply spray when mosquitoes start to bite
  • Once you go indoors, wash exposed skin with soap and water, or shower
  • If a rash or allergic reaction occurs from the spray, stop use, wash off with soap and water, and call a poison control center
  • Do not use repellents on pets or other animals, unless label states that product is safe for animals
  • Store repellents out of reach of children

Most repellents are safe to use on children; however, products with oil of lemon eucalyptus are not recommended for children under 3 years of age. Also, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that products with DEET not be used in infants younger than two months. Repellents are safe for pregnant and nursing women.

The following are tips on minimizing your chances of getting bitten.

For ticks, avoid tick habitats by:

  • Reducing time spent in possible tick-infested areas, such as tall grass and shrubs
  • Remove dead leaves and mow tall grass or brush
  • Walk in center of trails, avoiding nearby bushes

Avoid tick bites by doing these:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and high boots
  • Tuck shirts inside pants and pant legs into socks, to prevent ticks from getting in
  • Wear light-colored clothes, so you can see ticks more easily
  • Check your entire body and your child’s body for ticks; remove any that may attach to you without squeezing them

For mosquitoes, avoid bites by removing habitats:

  • Remove standing water in or on objects that mosquitoes could use to breed
  • At least once a week, empty and change water in wading pools, fountains, and potted plant trays
  • Drain or fill temporary pools of water with dirt
  • Swimming pool water should be treated and should circulate

Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and socks. Tuck shirts inside pants, and pants legs into socks to cover gaps. Mosquitoes are most active at sunrise, sunset and in the early evening; stay indoors during those times if mosquitoes are a problem.

Keep mosquitoes out of indoors by covering gaps in walls, doors and windows. Use screens. For babies, cover baby carriers and beds with netting.

In case of mosquito bites, avoid scratching area, and apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to relieve itching.

With respect to ticks, check yourself and your children thoroughly, including underarms, navels, ears and hair. Next, check your pets, as well as your belongings; ticks can get into sports equipment and into clothes in suitcases, if suitcases are left open. Always inspect clothes before putting them back in suitcase.

In the event of a tick bite, quickly remove whole tick without crushing it, then wash your hands and bite area with soap and water. See doctor if unexpected symptoms develop, such as a rash, fever, stiff neck, muscle aches or swollen lymph nodes. Call 911 if person bitten develops: a severe headache, difficulty breathing, paralysis, chest pain or palpitations.

By Jamell Andrews

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