Andrea Meadows, MD, Lexington Clinic Pediatrics
Mosquitoes and chiggers are the most common insects responsible for bites and rashes that occur in the summer. Chiggers, as they are commonly referred to, are actually small mites that usually cannot be seen without a microscope. They are everywhere and are hard to avoid, especially if you do any hiking or camping. They attach themselves to your skin and leave tiny bites, which usually go undetected until you start itching 12-24 hours later. One common myth is that the mites burrow under your skin—this is not true. The mites themselves are easily removed by scratching and washing off. The rash can be highly variable in appearance but you know your kids have it if you find them constantly itching. Treatment consists of topical anti-itch creams such as cortisone and calamine lotion as well as Benadryl by mouth.
As for mosquito bites, they are usually benign but can be problematic if excessive scratching causes a secondary bacterial infection to occur. Some children and adults will also have an exaggerated local reaction to the bite and cause a much larger “whelp” that can take days to go away. You can treat mosquito bites at home using topical cortisone cream. If the itching is severe or there are a lot of bites, Benadryl or Zyrtec by mouth should help.
One of the most important reasons to use insect repellant on your child is that mosquitoes can carry viral diseases. West Nile virus is probably the most widely known mosquito-borne illness in the summer time, but there are others as well. All of these viruses can cause encephalitis – an infection that causes inflammation of the brain. Common symptoms of encephalitis are severe headache, sensitivity to light, back or neck pain, fever and behavioral changes
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To prevent all types of insect bites, use an insect repellant that contains DEET. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a spray that has a DEET concentration of 10-30%. These bug sprays are safe to use on children over the age of 2 months but be careful to avoid using the spray on the hands and face. Spraying your child’s clothing is a great way to prevent insect bites; be sure to wash the treated clothing after returning indoors. If your family is going to be outside where there is a heavy burden of insects, wear long sleeves and pants for further protection.