Family health

Ask Dr. Dina: What's the best way to avoid bug bites?

Worried about those pesky insect bites this summer? Dr. Dina Kulik goes over insect repellent and how to prevent bug bites.

Child in the forest trying to avoid bug bites by spraying his arms with bug spray

Photo: iStockphoto

Mosquito bites are uncomfortable and itchy, and can make sleep more difficult. Even worse, the little pests can carry West Nile virus. It’s important to stay protected.

Here’s how to avoid bug bites:

• Wear light-coloured long pants and shirts.

• Avoid outdoor activity between dusk and dawn.

• Tuck shirts into pants and pant legs into socks.

• Keep babies covered with fine-mesh netting when possible.

• Get rid of standing water around your property, as this is where mosquitoes live and breed.

• Use insect repellent.

In countless studies, DEET has been found to be the most effective and safest product for preventing insect bites. The amount of DEET in a product is listed as a percentage. The higher the percentage of DEET, the longer the protection lasts.

Children six months to two years can use up to 10 percent DEET once a day, which should provide protection for about four hours.

Children older than two years can use 10 percent DEET up to three times daily. Adolescents and adults can use products with up to 30 percent DEET. I recommend pregnant and breastfeeding mothers avoid DEET products until further research is conducted.

I wish natural repellents worked as well as DEET does, but many studies show they don’t. They may cause skin or eye irritation, and many aren’t safe for use on kids younger than two years. Eucalyptus oil should not be used on children under three years of age, as it can be toxic. Citronella should not be applied to the skin of children younger than two years.

There are no known safe and effective insect repellents for children under six months old. According to public health agencies in the United States and Canada, these infants should avoid DEET. Instead, keep them dressed in light-coloured clothing, and protect them with a fine-mesh cover when in a stroller or playpen to avoid bug bites.

Read more:
The best ways to protect your kids from bug bites this summer
How to relieve an itchy bug bite