Mosquitoes, Ticks, and Zika virus… Oh, My! Bug protection for baby.

Mosquitoes, Ticks, and Zika virus… Oh, My! Bug protection for baby.

posted in: Camping with Kids, Tips | 0

When Sprout was born in the mid-Spring in a state that tends to have a high concentration of lyme-disease carrying ticks, we knew that we would need to use some form of bug repellent. But like many new parents, we were very concerned about what to put on her. Not only are none of the topical bug repellents approved for newborns (under 2 months), but even in older children and adults, bug repellent lowers the effectiveness of sunscreen, which is another concern of ours. I will discuss the different bug repellent options below, but for those who want the Cliff Notes version: We ultimately decided to treat a few outfits (for her and us) with Permethrin, a safe and highly effective bug repellent (per the CDC) that goes on clothing and will stay effective through several washes. Items we treated were designated “hiking clothing” and we avoided wearing them when not hiking. For Sprout, we used full body outfits or sleepers that covered her from neck to toe so that there were also few points of entry for a hungry tick.


Bug Repellent Options

  1. Barriers: Clothing and nets can be used to create a barrier between your child and mosquitos or ticks and are a great chemical free option, although depending on your region, they may not be sufficient. Mosquito nets with elastic edges can be used over a travel crib at a campground, a stroller, or baby carrier. You can also increase the effectiveness of these layers by treating them with Permethrin (see below).
  2. Permethrin treated clothing. 
    • As I mentioned above, permentrin is a highly effective bug repellent (protects against both ticks, mosquitoes, and chiggers), that is also used as a pesticide on food crops, and in medical treatments for scabies and lice. It You can buy pre-treated (“factory-treated”) repellent clothing at outdoor stores for adults, but I have yet to find similar items for toddlers or babies. However, you can buy permethrin at almost any outdoor store (such as REI or Campsavers) or from It is easy to treat clothing yourself, but it is important to follow the directions. Keep in mind that you need to let the clothing dry completely before first using them, so plan ahead and treat the clothing 48 hours or more before your first outing. A person wearing permethrin treated clothing is only protected in the areas that are covered by the clothing, so it is recommended that you use a topical bug repellent on exposed skin.
    • Safety: The EPA states that it “is unlikely to pose any significant immediate or long-term hazard to people wearing the clothing” and is considered safe for infants and pregnant women. When applied to the skin (which you should not do with permethrin intended for clothing), studies have found less than 1% of permethrin to enter the body. When it does enter the body, permethrin leaves the body quickly. Knowing that permethrin is being applied to our clothing, helps me feel more comfortable that our exposure is fairly low.  I also like that you do not have to worry about reapplying bug repellent when out and about, since Permethrin will stay on clothing through many washes.
    • Cat owners: Please make sure to keep permethrin products away from your cats, as cats are particularly sensitive to permethrin
    • National Pesticide Information Center Fact Sheet on Permethrin.
  3. Topical Bug Repellents (Spray on your skin).
    • There are four active ingredients used in bug sprays: Deet, Picaridin, Lemon Eucalyptus, and IR3535. In consumer reports testing, products contain IR3535 were generally not as effective in protecting against mosquitoes as the other three chemicals, so I will focus on the first three chemicals in this post instead. According to a study published in Journal of Insect Science (and reported on by NPR), the most effective reported by sprays (after 4 hours) Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus and Repel 100 insect repellent. However, neither of these products are recommended for young kids. According to consumer reports: the most effective sprays were “Sawyer Picaridin and Natrapel 8 Hour, which each contain 20 percent picaridin, and Off! Deepwoods VIII, which contains 25 percent deet” that latter of which was also tested in the JIS study, and was found to be most effective on application, but not 4 hours after application. Sawyer Picaridin was most effective at repelling ticks. The two reports generally agree that products containing only 7% DEET or 5% picaridin were ineffective, which is consistent with CDC and AAP recommendations to use products containing over 10% deet concentration. Consumer reports does not recommend natural plant oil products, such as California Baby Natural and EcoSmart Organics, as they failed to keep mosquitoes at bay for even an hour. Bug sprays should only be used on exposed skin and clothing, NOT underneath clothing.
      • DEET: 
        • Safety: According the CDC and the EPA, Deet products are safe for use with infants as young as 2 months old as long as they do not contain more than 30% DEET, but should not be used near their eyes or on their hands (since babies put their hands in their mouths and rub their eyes) nor should it be applied to open cuts/wounds. Using sunscreen with products containing DEET increases the absorption of DEET into the body and also lowers the effectiveness of sunscreen. So, if you do use sunscreen and DEET at the same time, make sure to reapply sunscreen often. Deet should also be washed off as soon as you go indoors. Stored out of reach from children as it is toxic if swallowed.
        • Product: Off! Deepwoods VIII
        • National Pesticide Information Center Fact Sheet on Deet
      • Picaridin:
        • Picardin has been used as a bug repellent for about 30 years in Europe and Austraila, but has only been available in the US since 2005. According the the consumer reports testing, products contain picardin (Sawyer Picaridin and Natrapel 8 Hour) are among the most effective at deterring mosquitoes and ticks.   Picardin has less of a smell than DEET products and some people report that it feels less oily. Look for products with 20% or more concentration of picaridin for greatest effectiveness.
        • Safety: A larger amount of picardin is absorbed into the body through the skin than with either DEET or Permethrin, but nearly all is excreted from the body the same day. Picardin is considered slightly toxic if ingested by the EPA, but “practically non-toxic” for skin and eye irritation.
        • Products: Sawyer Picaridin, Natrapel 8 Hour
        • National Pesticide Information Center Fact Sheet on Picaridin
      • Lemon Eucalyptus:
    • Use unscented soaps and lotions (scents attract bugs)
    • Wear light colored clothing
    • At home and in the backyard, use a strong fan to help deter mosquitoes…. they are weak fliers.
    • Check your body and children for ticks after being outside.
    • Wristbands and clip on fans are generally ineffective.


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