Communications: Patient Education

Patient Education: Minnesota Family Physicians Offer Advice on Keeping Kids Safe Outdoors

Wednesday, June 30, 2004  
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The Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians (MAFP) has named Dr. Dennis Peterson of Willmar as its 2004 Family Physician of the Year. This award is presented annually to a family physician who represents the highest ideals of the specialty of family medicine, including caring, comprehensive medical service, community involvement and service as a role model.

The start of summer means Minnesota kids will be spending a lot of time outside. It also means they’ll be exposed to the sun, as well as insects that bite and carry disease. Minnesota family physicians remind parents there are certain precautions they can take to keep their kids safe and comfortable this summer.

"Parents want to protect their kids from sunburn or insect bites, but often times they hear conflicting reports about what products to use,” said John Barsanti, a St. Paul family physician and member of the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians. "I get a lot of questions from moms and dads about what type of and how much sun screen and insect repellent is safe for kids.”

Family physicians advise using a sunscreen with a SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or greater, even on cloudy days. (A product’s SPF tells you how much longer you can stay in the sun without burning.) Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. "Don’t skimp on sunscreen,” Dr. Barsanti said. "Generally, you should plan on using about an ounce per child, per application.”

Other recommendations include having your children wear hats, sunglasses and clothing that will screen out the harmful rays. (If you can’t see through the material it, it should be okay.) Family physicians also suggest staying out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (when the rays are the strongest), applying sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside, and re-applying every two to three hours, or sooner, if your child is sweating or has been swimming, even if the sunscreen is waterproof. Babies younger than six months should be kept out of direct sunlight, and sunscreen should not be applied.

Protecting your children from bugs such as mosquitoes and ticks is also a daunting task. Your best bet is to keep them indoors during the evening and early morning. If that’s not possible, use protective clothing and apply insect repellent with as little DEET as needed, but no more than 30-percent DEET. Repellent should not be applied to infants younger than two months old. The Centers for Disease Control reports that a recent study shows a product containing 23.8% DEET provided an average of five hours of protection from mosquito bites and ticks. A higher concentration of DEET does not mean that it protects better- just that it lasts longer.

The challenge of keeping kids bite-free has intensified as people have become more aware of the West Nile virus. The virus is transmitted when an infected mosquito bites a person. However, not all mosquitoes are infected and even if they were, not everyone who gets bitten by an infected mosquito will get the virus.

"It’s important for parents to take steps to keep mosquitoes away from their kids,” Dr. Barsanti said. "However, it is not necessary to overreact and keep them tucked inside. Severe cases of West Nile are still rare among healthy children.”

The Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians is a professional association of approximately 3,000 family physicians, family medicine residents and medical students organized to assist family physicians in providing quality medical care in Minnesota. The MAFP is the largest medical specialty organization in Minnesota and is a state chapter of the American Academy of Family Physicians, one of the largest national medical organizations in the United States with more than 103,000 members.

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