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Summer Health Smarts

MOM WORRY: Can't mosquito bites be life-threatening because of West Nile virus?

Facts: Unlikely. Ever since West Nile virus came on the scene in the U.S. in 1999, many moms have worried about every mosquito bite their children get. No need to stress: While anyone can get West Nile virus, it's not a big threat to kids. "The majority of children who get this virus have no symptoms -- or they get aches, pains, and fever that go away within a few days," says Robert Frenck, Jr., M.D., professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics's (AAP) committee on infectious diseases. And fortunately, kids rarely develop serious complications such as encephalitis (a potentially dangerous brain inflammation).

To lower your child's chances of being bitten, though, get rid of standing water in your yard (think empty flowerpots and wading pools) -- a prime breeding ground for mosquitoes. And, of course, dress your child in a long-sleeved top and pants when you can, apply a DEET-containing insect repellent (the AAP advises one with a DEET concentration of no more than 30 percent for children), and consider keeping him inside around dusk, when the bugs come out in full force.

MOM WORRY: Could my child get impetigo from the swimming pool?

Facts: Not a concern. This bacterial skin infection, characterized by itchy blisters, scabs, or sores, is spread by direct contact with someone who's infected or from sharing contaminated towels or clothes -- not from water. "Kids get impetigo more often in the summer because they get cuts, scrapes, and bug bites then, which leave them particularly vulnerable to bacterial infections," says Robert Baltimore, M.D., a professor of pediatrics in the infectious diseases division at the Yale University Medical School.

Once your child is exposed to impetigo, it can take two to three days to develop symptoms. If it's limited to a small area, your doctor may suggest a topical over-the-counter antibiotic such as bacitracin or a prescription-strength antibiotic like Bactroban. Either of these may be enough to cure the infection and prevent it from spreading.

If the infection is extensive, has already spread, or doesn't respond to the topical ointment, oral antibiotics are used for seven to ten days. Due to the recent increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), watch your child's symptoms carefully to make sure the condition improves after the first course of antibiotics. If it doesn't, tell your doctor quickly; he'll need to prescribe an appropriate antibiotic if a culture indicates that the infection is due to MRSA.

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