More bugs and bites? Protect your child from ticks and mosquitoes this season

We’re not the only ones who enjoyed the record-setting mild winter—ticks and mosquitoes have too. While normal winters produce hard freezes that kill off these pests or make them dormant, unseasonably warm temperatures allowed adult mosquitoes and ticks to live through it, creating early arrival and a potential population boom for some types of bugs.

So how can you prepare your family for the early onslaught of ticks and mosquitoes?

“Prevention is key,” says Catherine Lachenauer, MD, director of Infectious Diseases Outpatient Practice at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Avoid areas at the edge of the woods with long grasses. Also, wearing long, light-colored clothing helps keep ticks from getting on the skin and makes it easier to recognize one on your body.”


An early spring can lead to a longer breeding period for ticks and mosquitoes

While wood ticks and dog ticks are common, it’s deer ticks that are most worrisome because they transmit Lyme disease, an infection that can affect a person’s skin, joints, nervous system and possibly organs. It is the leading tick-borne illness in the United States, and occurs mostly in the Northeast, upper Midwest and Pacific coast areas. Deer ticks do exist in southern states, but Lyme disease is much less prevalent there.

“Since deer ticks need 36 hours to transmit the Lyme germ, parents should check their children for ticks every day, especially in the warm months,” says Lachenauer. “Pay particular attention to parts of the body with skin folds, like armpits and necks.” Adult deer ticks that are not filled with human blood are usually the size of a sesame seed – engorged deer ticks will be larger, and easier to spot. Females are usually reddish orange with a brown spot, and males are brown all over.

If you find a tick on your child Lachenauer suggests the following steps:

  • Use tweezers to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible.
  • Pull upward steadily, but don’t twist or jerk the tick because it may break apart, leaving its mouth inside the child’s skin.
  • Once the tick is removed, clean the bite area and your hands with soap and water.
  • For at least 30 days afterward, check the bite area for a rash, and inform your child’s doctor if one appears.


All mosquitoes are annoying, but some can be far worse. Certain mosquitoes can spread diseases like encephalitis and the West Nile Virus, and are more commonly found in damp and heavily wooded areas. Mosquitoes are most active during dusk and dawn, especially in areas with calm, standing water nearby. Dressing children in long sleeves, pants and closed-toed shoes can help protect them from bites.

Whether there will be more mosquitoes and ticks around this summer depends on the weather. Right now, they are coming out of hibernation and using up their stored resources, making them more vulnerable to die if we get an unpredictable spell of cold weather. But they’re also breeding earlier, which means there is the potential for one or two more generations to buzz and crawl around this summer. If we have a particularly wet spring (mosquitoes breed in damp environments), then the latter is likely.

Prevention is the best defense, so protect your child with clothing and repellent, and call your doctor if you suspect an oncoming illness.

Choosing a repellent:

“The AAP suggests that babies under 2 months of age not use DEET as a repellent, but older children can use products containing up to 30 percent DEET,” says Lachenauer. “The higher the concentration of DEET, the longer the child will be protected.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer suggestions on repellents for both ticks and mosquitoes:

Repellent Protects best against Effectiveness Length of protection Precautions
DEET Mosquitoes Considered the best defense against biting insects. Three to eight hours, depending on amount* Use caution when applying to children.
Essential oils like citronella, cedar, eucalyptus and soybean Mosquitoes Generally much less effective repellents; most give short-term protection only. Usually less than two hours. Allergic reactions are rare, but can occur.
Permethrin Ticks These repellents kill ticks on contact. When applied to clothing, it lasts even after several washings. Should only be applied to clothing, not directly to skin. May be applied to outdoor equipment such as sleeping bags or tents.


*The CDC has broken down the average length of DEET protection:


Percentage of DEET in product Average hours of protection









Applying repellents:

When applying insect repellent to children, make sure to read all of the labels and instructions, and do not apply directly to a child’s face. Instead, spray the repellent in your hands first and then gently rub it on, avoiding the eyes and mouth. Avoid spraying repellent on your child’s hands as well, since they could put them in their mouth or eyes.

While most prevention tactics help reduce the risk of mosquito-and tick-borne illnesses, it’s important to be able to recognize them. Lachenauer suggests observing the area of the bite for 30 days to watch for critical symptoms. If your child does develop any of the following symptoms, call your doctor.

Illness Associated with Early symptoms
Lyme disease Ticks Small red bump near the bite that turns into a bull’s-eye pattern, flu-like symptoms, joint pain (less commonly: numbness or weakness of limbs, impaired muscle movement, irregular heartbeat, eye inflammation, extreme fatigue)
West Nile virus Mosquitoes Fever, headaches, tiredness, body aches, swollen lymph glands, possibly skin rash on the torso
Encephalitis Mosquitoes Headache, fever, muscle and joint aches, fatigue and weakness
Eastern equine encephalitis Mosquitoes Fever, headache, irritability, restlessness, drowsiness, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea