Insect repellent: Safe for babies and toddlers?

Is insect repellent recommended for babies and young children?

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Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

This is a common concern of parents as West Nile Virus is spreading across the country. Luckily, children appear to be at low risk for the disease (American Academy of Pediatrics, Aug 2002.)

One of the most effective ways to protect against mosquito bites is by using insect repellent with DEET. However, these products should be used with caution.

In 2001 the Environmental Protection Agency made the following recommendations regarding the safe use of insect repellant with DEET for children:

  • Do not apply to infants under two months of age. (Skin permeability becomes similar to adult by the second month of life.)
  • Read and follow all directions and precautions on the product label.
  • Do not apply over cuts, wounds or irritated skin.
  • Do not apply to young children's hands or near eyes or mouth.
  • Do not allow young children to apply products themselves.
  • Use just enough to cover the exposed skin and/or clothing.
  • Do not use under clothing.
  • Avoid over-application.
  • After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water.
  • Wash treated clothing before wearing again.
  • Do not use spray solutions in enclosed areas or near food.
  • For use on face, apply to adult hands and then rub on face. Do not spray face. Avoid areas around eyes and mouth.

Experts agree that insect repellants containing DEET are the most effective. Years of DEET use have resulted in relatively few reports of adverse reactions. Most reported incidents have not been serious.

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that a 30 percent concentration is safe for both children and adults, but that 10 percent can be used for children if parents are concerned about the potential risks or if the threat of disease-carrying mosquitoes is small.

Even when the insect repellent you select does not contain DEET, citronella and other more "natural" repellents could cause problems in a young child if used liberally on the skin. I suggest you look into clothing that is both light for summer weather but also long to cover the skin, and use insect repellent sparingly.

Source: The American Academy of Pediatrics

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