Just like adults, babies can contract dangerous diseases from mosquitoes and ticks. The most common in the U.S. are, from mosquitoes, West Nile virus and, from ticks, Lyme disease. But there are several other diseases that, although rare, pose particular risks to babies and children, says Erin Staples, MD, PhD, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
La Crosse virus, for example, is a mosquito-borne disease reported occasionally in the upper Midwest, southeastern, and mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S. Severe cases occur most often in children under the age of 16 and, in less than 1 percent of cases, the disease can be deadly. Anywhere from a few dozen to more than 100 confirmed cases are reported in the U.S. each year, though the CDC notes that many more cases likely go undiagnosed and unreported.
Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus is reported even less frequently than La Crosse virus, but Staples says it should still be on a parent’s radar. “It’s thankfully rare but it’s one of our deadliest mosquito-borne diseases here domestically,” she says. “Young children and older adults seem to be more particularly affected.” It occurs mainly in Atlantic and Gulf Coast states. EEE kills about 30 percent of people who contract it, and those who survive often live with permanent neurological problems. There are an average of 11 cases reported in the U.S. each year.
Keep an eye on local alerts from your health department. If a mosquito-borne disease like La Crosse or EEE is reported in your area, that means it’s time to be extra careful about taking mosquito bite prevention measures for your baby (and for yourself).
When it comes to ticks, Staples says Powassan virus is of particular concern for young children. Powassan virus, which most commonly occurs in the Northeast and Great Lakes region and is spread to humans primarily by blacklegged ticks, can also be fatal. And even if infants aren’t spending time outdoors in tick-infested areas, she says cases have occurred in which a parent or even a pet may have brought in a tick that was then transferred to an infant.
“It’s very important to remind parents to perform tick checks as soon as they come in and check their pets also,” Staples says.
And while children under age 5 are some of the least likely to contract Lyme disease, cases can and do occur in very young babies, according to a 2019 study in the journal Pediatrics.
Finally, take special care if you’re traveling with your baby to an area of the world where malaria is endemic. Most deaths from malaria occur in young children, Balk says.