Insect repellent helps reduce your exposure to mosquito bites that may carry West Nile virus or other diseases, and allows you to continue to play, work, and enjoy the outdoors with a lower risk of disease.
Apply repellents when you are going to be outdoors and will be at risk for being bitten by mosquitoes, especially around dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active. If you're outside during these hours pay special attention to using repellent. The safest decision is to use repellent whenever you are outdoors, even if it is only for a few minutes.
A wide variety of insect repellents are available. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using only products containing active ingredients that are registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use as repellents. [this page has recent updates about mosquito repellents]. Registered products have been reviewed and approved for safety and effectiveness when used according label instructions. According to the CDC, the most effective repellents contain one of the following EPA registered active ingredients:
- DEET ((N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide)
- Picaridin (KBR 3023)
Oil of lemon eucalyptus, (p-menthane 3, 8-diol) a plant based repellent, is also registered with the EPA. Two recent studies have shown that oil of lemon eucalyptus products provide protection similar to repellents with a low concentration of DEET. In addition, products that contain permethrin are recommended for use on clothing, shoes, bed nets, and camping gear, and are registered with the EPA for this use. Permethrin-treated clothing repels and kills ticks, mosquitoes, and other insects.
Repellents are available in different concentrations. A product with a higher percentage of active ingredient (such as DEET) doesn't work better, it just lasts longer between applications. Choose a repellent that will provide protection for the amount of time you will be outdoors. You should use a higher- percentage product if you will be outdoors for several hours, or will be sweating, physically active, or getting wet. If your time outdoors will be limited, use a lower-percentage product; you can always re-apply if you are outdoors longer than expected. If you use a DEET-based product, one with a concentration of 30% is fine for most situations. To reduce the risk of adverse effects, you should use the lowest concentration product you can for your situation.
DEET is the most widely available and tested repellent. Products containing DEET are very safe when used according to the directions. Because DEET is so widely used, a great deal of testing has been done. To read more information about DEET safety see the National Pesticide Information Center [NPIC], EPA re-registration eligibility decision fact sheet (npic.orst.edu/factsheets/DEETgen.pdf).
General guidelines for using repellents safely:
You can use DEET products on children and on infants over two months old. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends using DEET products with a concentration of 30% or less on children. Picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus products can also be used on children but check the label-some should not be used on children under 3 years. When using repellents on children, apply to your own hands first and then put it on the child. Don't apply repellent to children's hands as they may put them in their mouth.
Yes, the EPA has not recommended any additional precautions for using registered repellents on pregnant or lactating women.
Use of these products may cause skin reactions in rare cases. Cases of serious reactions to products containing DEET have been related to misuse of the product, such as swallowing, using over broken skin, and using for multiple days without washing skin in between use, for example. Whenever possible, wash skin between applications of repellent.
If you suspect you or your child is having a reaction to a repellent, wash the skin and remove treated clothing. Then call your doctor or the local poison control center at: 1-800-222-1222.
For more information about using repellents safely please consult the EPA Web site ( www.epa.gov/pesticides/factsheets/chemicals/alpha_fs.htm ) or consult the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC), which is cooperatively sponsored by Oregon State University and the U.S. EPA. NPIC can be reached at http://npic.orst.edu or 1-800-858-7378.