If you are a parent in South Florida, you may have seen the recent news release this past week about the Dengue fever outbreak that’s been discovered in Key West. You can Google search the Palm Beach Post’s headline from Wednesday, July 14: “Surge of dengue virus hits Key West”.
Here’s the short list of what Dengue fever is:
- Also known as “break-bone fever”
- High fever, pain behind eyes, bone and joint pain, nausea and vomiting
- Symptoms start within 4 days of bite, pass in usual less than a week
- There are more severe forms that would require medical attention because of internal and external bleeding (3-4 of the cases in Key West involved bleeding episodes)
At the same time, we must remember that even if this Dengue fever spreads north to the rest of Florida, we still have another disconcerting mosquito-borne illness to contend with. No, it’s not just West Nile virus—an illness that most people get through unharmed if contracted. Evidently there was a recent death of a horse attributed to Eastern equine encephalitis. Thankfully, even with the high mortality rate in people, Eastern equine encephalitis only claims 5-6 human cases every year.
My son and I have already earned our summer season welts and broken skin bites on our legs, arms, back, belly and neck. I feel slightly remiss as a parent for not trying to protect ourselves better. But what are our options these days?
Off! and other brands that are known for their sprays, wipes and lotions with DEET concern me and I tend to avoid them unless absolutely necessary. Basically I was “turned off” to Off! after an experience over a year ago that I’ve since recalled to many friends: When my son was an infant, one of my ways of exercising in his first year was to put him in my Bob running stroller. In Florida, the peak times for the mosquitoes seems to be early morning and late in the day. My runs were usually in the morning and I would clip a couple of Off! fans to the stroller for the baby but I would still spray myself with Off! because my arms would take a hit otherwise. One morning I came to the stroller and picked up my Off! spray bottle that I’d left on top of the stroller. To my horror, I realized as I lifted the bottle that some had spilled on the see-through plastic intended to spy on baby while using and the Off! had eaten a large hole in it! After that I realized that the chemicals in this stuff were too toxic for our skin, let alone our children’s.
I have found the bug bands to be useful, you can find them at stores like Gander or even Bed Bath and Beyond. They are plastic, adjustable bands that have certain oils (like geranium and lavender) that help deter the blood-sucking mosquitoes. The only downside is they are temporary and disposable. They usually last up to 72 hours if used consecutively.
There are also some natural products that are out there, like at Whole Foods stores for instance. Those are hit and miss though. Some are not really affective, some too oily/greasy and others just difficult to find or too expensive.
You can always look at getting an electric bug zapper or this new thing available at Home Depot that is the size of a large sippy cup and runs with a little bit of gas and helps keep mosquitoes away at a certain perimeter. Some gardening catalogs like www.gardeners.com have some great anti-mosquito products.
Those who are veteran Florida parents also know about ways to help keep the mosquito population down: getting rid of standing water, treating small ponds with mosquito repellents that are biologically safe.
It’s a sad truth, but we have to face the mosquito questions every year in Florida and those who have children are especially on high alert. Arm yourselves with what you think is right for your family and hopefully you can minimize this season’s bites.