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mommy says protect yourself from ticks and mosquitoes

Updated on May 15, 2010

To DEET or not to DEET...Lyme disease and WNV is a threat

According the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (NHDHHS), Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and West Nile virus remains a serious threat and people should remain diligent in avoiding mosquito bites. Tick population, according to entomologist Michael Morrison, owner of SWAMP Inc. based in Kittery, Maine, has exploded this season.

“I could not even begin to put a number or percentage to the increase in ticks,” he said. “Everyone should be checking themselves and family daily.”

Fifty percent of ticks recently tested by officials were carrying Lyme disease, which is spread through the bite of an infected tick. Morrison’s company handles mosquito and tick control for municipalities and residents and he says there are some non chemical actions one can take to protect themselves.

“With ticks, you have to cut back the shrubs and keep the grass cut low, basically create a large perimeter that is as cut back as possible. Ticks tend to like trees, shrubs and tall grassy areas,” he explained. “A ten foot barrier of bark mulch between your yard and the woods or grassy areas seems to work well in keeping them away. They can’t crawl through it.”

As far as protection for ticks and mosquitoes goes, covering the skin and using some form of bug repellent is what some officials recommend. But with all the products on the market, it can be confusing to consumers and questions remain for many about what is safe, what really works and if they can use it on their children.

Pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Jones, of Exeter Pediatric Associates, says that there are basic guidelines she recommends for her young patients and their parents, which are supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Jones says that children under two months should never have bug repellent of any kind used on them. Other methods of prevention should be implemented such as bug netting over the stroller or carrier or simply avoiding being outdoors from sunset to dawn when mosquitoes are most active.

According to Dr. Jones, after two months of age a product containing a low level, 5-7 percent, of the chemical DEET (diethyl-methyl-meta-toluamide) is considered relatively safe to use on children but only following the product’s specific directions.

“These repellents work well for a couple of hours and are FDA and EPA approved, but they are a chemical,” she says. “Parents need to read the directions, never apply it on their child’s hands or around the mouth and always wash the treated areas upon coming inside. If it’s applied to the clothing that clothing should be removed and washed after coming inside as well.”

That being said it, the need to wash it off as soon as possible can raise the level of concern for some parents.

“Some parents don’t want to put a chemical like DEET on their child and for those parents I recommend alternatives such as products with Picaridin, which has been used safely in Europe for many years, or oil of lemon eucalyptus, which are all recommended by the Centers Of Disease Control (CDC) as good alternatives to low level DEET products.”

Jones says that products containing Picaridin and oil of euliciptus last a couple of hours and provide about the same protection as products with 5-7 percent DEET. She also said that studies have proven that higher levels of DEET in products do not have a track record of working better, they just work longer. Products with 25 - 30 percent DEET typically protect for 4-6 hours and products with more than 30 percent DEET have shown no increase in benefits or length of time that they protect.

“Basically I think the parent needs to weigh the risk vs. the benefit,” she said. “The risk of Lyme disease, West Nile and EEE are far greater than the use of DEET or any other bug repellent.”

That risk some parents know all too well. In 2005, Newton resident Richard Labell lost his 20-year-old daughter, Kelly, to EEE, the first death ever from the virus in the state. That year N.H. lead the nation in EEE cases, totaling 7 with two deaths.

Labell, 54, has since made it his mission to educate the public and support community efforts to fight this deadly virus. He started “Kelly’s Fund” which has raised money for education, scholarships to Sanborn Regional High School graduates going into medicine, medical research support at Johns Hopkins Medical Center for encephalitis research and insect repellent wipes to supply to youth and community organizations.

“My wife and I just want to keep Kelly’s memory alive and to help prevent this from happening to someone else,” Labell, a former Newton police chief who now serves as a detective at the Raymond police department said. “We as a family don’t live on edge about mosquitoes and the risk, but we want to keep the awareness fresh…it’s up to people to take it seriously.”

Labell says he takes it very serious, wearing long pants and sleeves if he is outside in the evening. He says he uses bug repellent containing DEET as well and Kelly’s Fund has provided repellent wipes to many youth organizations to keep kids safe during recreation activities. And do those wipes have DEET or Picaridin?

“We found a company, Tender Corp. in Littleton that has both natural repellents and the chemical DEET and we let the organization we are providing for decide,” he said. “Many parents don’t want chemicals on their child, so we go with the alternative and it offers similar benefits.”

EEE is a virus transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito that has picked up the virus by feeding on an infected bird. Overall, health officials say, the risk to people is low, and in most cases, symptoms are mild and generally begin 2 to 14 days after being bitten.

In severe cases, the first symptoms are high fever, stiff neck, headache and lack of energy. In rare cases, EEE can progress to encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), coma and death, as it did for Kelly Labell.

For the past two years, mosquitoes carrying the virus were detected just across the street from Labell's home. He says he thinks the threat is here to stay and that people need to remember to protect themselves.

“Don’t get complacent. Don’t say it will never happen to me,” Labell said. “Be vigilant and protect your children and yourselves. The chances are rare, but they are there…my family knows this for a fact.”

For more information on EEE or West Nile Virus or Lyme disease, call the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services toll-free information line at 866-273-6543 or online at www.dhhs.nh.gov.


Prevention Guidelines for West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis

Protect yourself from mosquito bites. If outside during evening, nighttime, and dawn hours when mosquitoes are most active and likely to bite, children and adults should wear protective clothing such as long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and socks.
Consider the use of an effective insect repellent, such as one containing DEET. A repellent containing 10 percent or less DEET (diethyl-methyl-meta-toluamide) for children, and no more than 30 percent DEET for adults. Use DEET according to the manufacturer’s directions. Children should not apply DEET to themselves.
Repellents that contain Picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus have also been determined to be effective.
Vitamin B, ultrasonic devices, incense, and bug zappers have not been shown to be effective in preventing mosquito bites. For more information on West Nile Virus, call the NH Department of Health and Human Services toll-free West Nile Virus Information Line at 866–273–NILE (6543), or visit the West Nile Virus Website at www.dhhs.nh.gov

Guideline provided by the NH Department of Heath and Human Services

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