The buzz of a hungry mosquito has officially gone from annoying to downright frightening with the announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that 2012's outbreak of West Nile virus is on track to be the worst in US history.
First, a quick refresher. West Nile is spread by mosquitoes that carry the virus; mosquitoes acquire it from infected birds. Not everyone who gets bitten by an infected mosquito will get the virus, but so far this year, 1,118 cases of the disease have been reported in 47 states, with 41 deaths attributed to West Nile. Texas is currently the country's hot spot for the disease—approximately half of all cases have happened there. In otherwise healthy children, symptoms of the virus tend to resemble the flu and may include fever, headache and body aches, a mild rash, and swollen lymph glands. About 1 percent of people infected with West Nile virus will develop life-threatening symptoms.
Protecting kids from West Nile means making sure they don't get bitten by mosquitoes. To help parents with the often tricky task of keeping insects off babies and toddlers, the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics offer the following tips:
- Use mosquito repellent when you are going to be outdoors. Even if you don't notice mosquitoes there's a good chance that they are around.
- Do not use DEET on babies less than 2 months old. Insect repellants containing oil of lemon should not be used on children under 3 years old.
- Apply carefully. When using insect repellent on a young child, apply it to your own hands and then rub them on your child. Avoid children's eyes and mouth and use it sparingly around their ears. Do not apply repellent to children's hands. (Babies and toddlers have the tendency tend to put their hands in their mouths.)
- Whenever possible, dress defensively. Put your child in long sleeves and long pants before heading outside.
- Use mosquito netting over a baby's infant carrier.
- Keep your child away from standing water and other locations where mosquitoes are likely to congregate or lay their eggs (e.g., in birdbaths and pet water dishes). You can reduce the number of mosquitoes in the area by getting rid of containers with standing water that provide breeding places for mosquitoes.
- Repair any holes in your screens.
Finally, because mosquitoes are more likely to bite humans at certain times of day—most commonly at dawn, dusk, and in the early evening—consider limiting the amount of time your child is outdoors during those hours.