Summertime Bugs, Bites and Burns: A Pediatrician’s Perpective

Treating a bee stingThe beginning of summer signals a time of spending more active hours outdoors. The weather is warming up, the days are longer and children are getting out of school and probably staying up longer than they did during the school year. It is a time to let loose and enjoy the sunshine and freedom that comes with the season.

Certain issues should be addressed and some summer safety tips followed in order to keep everyone as healthy as possible. While exposure to sunlight is important to the innate production of vitamin D and hence calcium metabolism, there are dangers that our dermatology friends have been warning about for quite some time: too much sun can be as dangerous as too little. The highest rates of Melanoma (serious form of skin cancer) occur where there is an increased and constant exposure to sunshine, such as the southwestern part of this country. Why is this? It has been determined that both UVA and UVB light frequencies can at times alter the structure of DNA, that is the microscopic building blocks for forming all types of life forms. This is most prominent in the largest organ in our bodies, our skin. This can lead to the formations of all types of skin growths- melanoma being the most serious as it can shorten one’s life.

So avoiding sunlight would be the best way of avoiding this problem, but this is virtually impossible. Therefore try to avoid the maximum sunlight times of the day and spend more time outdoors before 10 AM and after 3PM, and cover up as much as is practical. At all times children should have a good sunblock on their skin- one that will block both UVA and UVB frequencies, and if continued exposure to sunlight is taking place or if one enters the water, this sunblock should be re-applied; the higher the SPF the less often it need be applied.

One blistering sunburn in a child can raise the chances of developing melanoma as an adult manifold. Once a sunburn is present there is practically nothing you can do except to keep your child comfortable with cool compresses and Tylenol if he/she is very uncomfortable.

Not only are bugs a nuisance but some may carry diseases. Just as an example, the recent concentration on the Zika virus highlights the need to be alert to insects (mosquitoes), as the Zika virus was not even recognized 5 years ago. There are known illnesses that can be transmitted through the bites of insects, but as a rule these are not very common- it still makes sense to wear appropriate clothing and use insect repellent at appropriate times. These repellents should contain DEET in concentrations up to 30% for children and should not be used under the age of 6 months.

In general the ubiquitous honey bee usually will not be interested in stinging humans unless they are threatened- inadvertently sat on, or a child is actively trying to catch them. Even the large black and yellow bees seen buzzing around certain plants and flowers are not particularly aggressive.

This is not necessarily true of other stinging insects in the same family (hymenoptera). Hornets and wasps can be aggressive depending on the situation, and the fairly new “Africanized bee” population has grown in size- they tend to swarm and have been responsible for deaths in the past. So better off to avoid these creatures altogether. Of course if there is a known bee allergy present in your child certainly more stringent avoidance procedures should be undertaken as this can be a life threatening situation.

So summertime is a wonderful time for families and especially children; be sure to keep your child safe from the indigenous dangers that summer presents.

Other summer topics to be discussed in the near future include water hazards, plant contact (poison ivy, etc), heat exposure, dog and cat bites not to mention animal safety in general.

About the Author

Dr. Joseph Skoloff received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and his medical degree from The Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He is a past Vice Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics, a past Chairman of the Infection Control Committee at the Loudoun Hospital Center and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In his 41 years as a practicing pediatrician he has kept hundreds of kids and families healthy and safe and plans to continue to do so for years to come. Dr. Joe believes strongly in the combined power of parent and physician working together for the health of their children. He is an advocate for children everywhere and and adheres strongly to the principles of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr Joe is a member of the PedSafe Expert team


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