The summer is a perfect time for families to be active outdoors, but warmer temperatures also attract insects. In the Mid-Atlantic region, West Nile virus and Lyme Disease are the most common diseases spread by insects.

What is West Nile virus?

West Nile virus is transmitted to humans through mosquito bites. Most children infected with West Nile virus experience only mild, flu-like symptoms within the first two weeks. More severe symptoms of West Nile virus occur when the virus has spread from the bloodstream to the brain. In such cases, symptoms like headache, high fever, muscle aches, confusion and neck stiffness are signs to prompt a call to the pediatrician.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is transmitted through a deer tick bite. Symptoms include a bull’s eye-like rash that appears within a few weeks of the bite, as well as fatigue and muscle pain. According to Children’s National’s Infectious Disease specialist David Hyun, MD, meningitis and arthritis are more severe symptoms of Lyme disease that may occur several weeks after a bite from an infected tick.

“If you notice a rash on your child, see your pediatrician,” says Dr. Hyun.

How to protect your family from diseases spread by insects

There are many easy ways to protect your family from these somewhat seasonal diseases. Dr. Hyun strongly recommends insect repellents as a precautionary measure. “Insect repellents should be applied by parents and re-applied if they are outdoors for long periods of time.”

Tips for applying insect repellent:

  • Apply insect repellent containing DEET. Dr. Hyun recommends a repellent with a 20 percent concentration or less for young children.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that repellents with DEET should not be used on infants younger than 2-months old.
  • Do not apply repellent to children’s hands since they tend to put their hands in their mouth.
  • Do not apply repellent near your child’s nose, mouth and eyes, and do not apply over any cuts or open sores.

In addition to insect repellent, other easy ways to prevent West Nile virus or Lyme disease include:

  • Avoiding woody/bushy areas
  • Staying at the center of trails while hiking since ticks are often attached to high grasses
  • Wearing long sleeves and pants when possible
  • Avoiding peak hours for mosquito bites by keeping your child indoors at dawn and dusk
  • Checking pets for ticks
  • Showering after outdoor activities
  • Repairing or installing screens on windows and doors
  • Emptying standing water from gutters, flower pots and kiddie pools


David Hyun, MD, is a senior officer for Pew’s antibiotic resistance project, focusing on research and policy development pertaining to human stewardship of antibiotics. Before joining Pew, he was a practicing physician at Children’s National, where he developed and co-chaired the antibiotic stewardship program. He also served as an assistant professor of pediatrics at the George Washington University School of Medicine.

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