This week’s guest columnist is Dr. Allan Olson, a Family Practice resident at University Hospital and Clinics here in Lafayette.
It’s mosquito season again- never far away in Louisiana. Usually bites are harmless, causing some redness, itching, and swelling that goes away within hours. Ten years ago mosquito bites were just a nuisance, but now the news is full of stories about Zika and Dengue, and remember West Nile virus? So when to worry?
Your 10 year-old son played outside this afternoon. When he came in for supper he had two itchy, raised, red areas on his arms and one on his neck. Other than some rubbing and scratching, he seems fine. Should you be concerned?
Not yet: your boy is behaving normally, has no fever or other symptoms besides the bites. You tell him to stop scratching- good luck with that! When mosquitoes bite, they inject an anesthetic so you don’t know they’re biting and can’t swat them. But then later some people develop a tiny allergic reaction to that anesthetic, and thus the spot of swelling and itching. And when kids itch, they scratch, and no words can stop that.
To get rid of the itch, use anti-histamines like Benadryl, Claritin, or Zyrtec. Ibuprofen or Tylenol can take the edge off itching too, and can safely be taken with an anti-histamine. Also, keep your kids fingernails cut short. If they tear the skin with scratching, that broken skin is an entry for bacteria, and infections and pus can result. If your child has extra sensitive or dry skin, keep it moisturized with lotion and moisturizing soap, making it less itchy and less easily torn by fingernails.
Even better, keep those bites from happening! Mosquito buzzing is no reason to stay inside all day playing video games. Kids need exercise (besides their thumbs) to stay healthy, not to mention wearing them out so they’ll sleep at night. Have your kids wear light, long sleeved clothing and pants, with cuffs tucked into socks. Too hot for that, or too dorky for your kid? Repellents with DEET or picaridin can help keep insects away. Avoid being outside when mosquitoes are most active- dusk, dawn, and after rain.
Here’s a different mosquito scenario than from our boy above. Your teenage daughter goes on a mission trip to Central America with her church. She was helping out at a clinic in a remote village, and gets some mosquito bites. Two days after coming home she begins to feel bad- with fever, headaches, nausea. Her body aches and she’s tired. Knowing that many infections transmitted by mosquitoes get better on their own, you give her Tylenol and have her drink plenty of fluids. So when to worry now?
These days with Zika virus in the news, heck, you’re already worried! So you take her to your doctor or the ER. Most of the time though, these mosquito-borne infections are viruses that run their course and leave your daughter fine. Occasionally, kids may need tests to look for one of the bad infections like West Nile, Dengue, or malaria. They may need fluids for dehydration or specific medicine for pain.
Many countries in the Caribbean, Central America, or South America have increased risk for mosquito-borne diseases like Zika, Chikungunya, yellow fever, West Nile, Dengue, or malaria. If you or your kids are working or vacationing there, preventing these illnesses is way better than getting them! Sleep under mosquito netting, in a room with screens on the windows. Air-conditioning helps: you can sleep in a more sealed room, and the cool air makes mosquitoes less active. Use repellents and protective clothing as mentioned above.
Before you go, check the Centers for Disease Control website (www.cdc.gov). The CDC lists the disease risks for every country in the world, and what you need before you go. If yellow fever is prevalent, get vaccinated for that. For malaria prevention, the site tells you what antibiotic to get from your doctor, when to start taking it, and when to stop. It’s a pretty cool site (at least we doctors think so), so check it out.
Don’t let those mosquitoes disrupt your kids’s outdoor fun or travel plans. Take these steps to help them have a great summer at home or on the road. And so you don’t have to panic when you hear BZZZZZZ.