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The question: My five-year-old is always getting mosquito bites this time of year. Are bug sprays safe to use on children?

The answer: While there are many reasons to celebrate Canadian summer, the arrival of mosquitoes is not one of them. Mosquitoes and black flies are common in most parts of the country and can turn the most relaxing outdoor pursuit into a frustrating exercise of arm flapping and swatting. Not only are the swarming insects annoying and the bites itchy, but bug bites can have medical ramifications as well. Itchy bites can keep children awake at night, and scratching the lesions can damage the skin, leading to infection. West Nile virus is a relatively rare but serious condition that's transmitted through the bite of infected mosquitoes.

Avoiding bug bites is always the best strategy. Biting insects are most active at dusk, so staying indoors at this time is advisable. Alternatively, covering up with light-coloured long-sleeved shirts, pants, socks and shoes in the evening is also effective.

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If your children are going to be outdoors during mosquito season, use an insect repellent on exposed skin. Although you will find many products on the market, in my opinion, the only reliable, effective repellents are those that contain DEET. When used as directed, these products are safe and well tolerated; they are approved for use with children as young as six months old.

It is important to know the concentration of DEET that you are applying, especially with children. Health Canada recommends repellents with 10-per-cent DEET or less for children ages six months to 12 years, while teens and adults may apply products containing up to 30 per cent. Many of the "family" or "kids" repellents contain less than 5-per-cent DEET. In regions where the flies are numerous and aggressive, repellents with lower DEET concentrations may not suffice. In my northern New Brunswick community, for example, children need to apply a repellent with closer to 10-per-cent DEET for adequate protection.

Keep bug bites clean and discourage scratching to prevent infection. Applying calamine lotion or one of the over-the-counter after bite products can be soothing. For children more severely affected, an antihistamine such as Benadryl may be given by mouth, especially at bedtime, to decrease the itch.

Send pediatrician Michael Dickinson your questions at He will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail website. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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