Minnesota summers are notoriously short, so ensuring our little ones get maximum time and enjoyment outside is important! But, with the warmer weather come pests which can make for an unpleasant outdoor experience.
We spend lots of time outdoors at Sonnet, including nature exploration, walks and playground activity. Send your child to school with a bug repellent of your choice, clearly marked with your child’s first and last name, and we will apply it before outdoor activity time!
Here are some tips on how to protect your child from three common summer pests.
Black Flies (Buffalo Gnats)
Most active in the spring, but present through the summer, black flies are pests that do not carry disease, but can leave behind wounds, usually along the hairline and behind the ears of its victims. They will also bite around the feet, ankles, and on the arms.
Black flies travel up to 10 miles from their hatching site (usually in rapidly flowing water), so unfortunately, yard treatment is only a temporary help.
Black flies are attracted to the carbon dioxide exhaled by humans and animals, as well as to perspiration, fragrances (including those in shampoo, condition, and body lotion) and dark, moving objects. They are most active just after sunrise and before sunset.
Prevention methods include wearing long sleeve shirts, pants and a hat with netting; wearing white or brightly colored clothing; avoidance of fragranced shampoos, conditioners, soaps and lotions; using outdoor fans where your children play; encouraging outdoor activity in open areas of your lawn instead of alongside shrubbery, landscaping or trees. Unfortunately, studies on DEET and other repellents have not been shown to provide consistent relief.
However, we did some research on what local Minnesota moms swear by, and the following deterrents were consistent winners: pure vanilla extract (dabbed along the hair line), Bug Soother Spray, Buggins Natural Insect Repellent (Vanilla Mint & Rose) and Bugg Insect Repellent.
Otherwise known as the Minnesota state bird, there are more than 50 species here, half of which are a nuisance (meaning they bite humans), and a handful can carry disease, including the Culex tarsalis (West Nile virus) and the Aedes triseriatus (La Crosse encephalitis). Thankfully, case load of these diseases in Minnesota is very low. Still, mosquito bites can cause allergic reactions in young children and are definitely an annoyance!
Preventing mosquitos from breeding on your property is the first step you can take for protection. Empty out water holding containers around your home, such as old tires, flower pots and saucers, buckets, cans, and toys. Water in outdoor pet bowls, bird baths, fountains and pools should be changed once week, and the container scrubbed out. Landscape ponds should be treated with a pellet designed for mosquito larval control in ponds, or stocked with small fish that eat mosquito larva. Gutters should be cleared of old leaves to prevent them from clogging and pooling water. Rain barrels should be airtight or have a screen small enough to prevent mosquitos from entering, and should be emptied and scrubbed clean a few times each season. If you have low spots in your lawn that hold water more than 3 days, they could be a breeding ground for mosquitos and it is best to fill in low-lying areas or use larval control.
It is best to keep your child’s outdoor activity during daylight hours, avoiding dawn and dusk. As with black flies, loose fitting, light colored, long sleeved shirts and pants are best, and a head net may be used.
Mosquito repellent with up to 30% DEET is safe and effective for children over two months of age. Alternatives to DEET include repellent with oil of lemon eucalyptus. Be sure to reapply repellents per label instructions, as they usually work for a designated number of hours. Wash off repellents when returning indoors.
Again, Minnesota moms are a great source of information, lauding the effectiveness of products such as Dynatrap, Spartan Mosquito tubes, Wink Shield Bug Protection, in addition to the repellents listed for repelling black flies.
Ticks thrive in wooded, bushy, unmanicured areas. We have about a dozen species in Minnesota and not all carry disease. Potential diseases transmitted include Lyme disease and Anaplasmosis.
Prevention while at home is to ensure your lawn is manicured and the grass is cut short; eliminating wood piles or other potential nesting sites for mice (ticks get Lyme’s Disease from mice); and installing a “tick barrier” around your lawn.
When outdoors, apply a repellent with DEET every 3 hours. (Alternates include oil of lemon eucalyptus oil.) Always perform tick checks after outdoors time, paying attention to crevices such as the underarm, behind the knees, scalp, behind ears, waistline, and back. Shower after being outdoors. If hiking or playing in unmanicured areas, it is best to wear long sleeve shirts and pants, with pants tucked into socks. Have your little ones wear shoes rather than sandals.
If your child has a tick, finding and removing them within 24 hours dramatically reduces the possibility of Lyme disease. Remove the ticks with a tweezer, clamping on as close to the head of the tick as possible.
As always, follow the recommendations of your pediatrician and label instructions when it comes to using repellents, taking into consideration recommended age of use.
What to do about the itch?
A bug-bite free summer is unlikely, despite prevention tips, so what do you do about the itch?
Pediatricians recommended treatment for itch and swelling include:
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Calamine lotion
- Baking soda paste
- Firm, sharp direct pressure on the bite for 10 seconds
- Allergy medicine (Benadryl, Zyrtec, etc) or cream
- Other recommendations from Minnesota moms include: lavender oil, Murphy’s bite relief soothing balm and the “Bite Thing” suction tool.
Don’t let the bugs keep you and your child from soaking up the Vitamin C and physical activity this summer!
Note: we do not endorse or recommend the preceding products but are sharing these as a resource for you and your family; always do your own research prior to purchasing a product; always consult your pediatrician before using a product on your child. Follow label instructions including application guidelines and age requirements.