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An Ounce of Prevention: Insect-related Illness or Repellent:  You Decide!

People have become very wary about chemicals in the products they use.  Understandably, as chemical use should be employed with caution and education.  However, there are times when using chemicals can prevent illness and complications of illness.  Insect repellents are an example.  These products, when used correctly, can prevent insect-borne illness such as West Nile, Zika and tick-related disease.  They are not a 100% guarantee, but they certainly reduce your chances of becoming ill.

Repellents are pesticides that make you less attractive to insects.  They do not kill the insects, but rather reduce the chance that they will bite you.  There are people who will remain opposed to using insect repellent.  However, if you ever had Lyme disease, you might change your mind.  And today, there are many products that repel insects, some of which may be more desirable to those opposed to the chemical in DEET.  Review the information below and you decide.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the use of products containing active ingredients which have been registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use as repellents applied to skin and clothing.  Of the products registered with the EPA, those containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide longer-lasting protection.  EPA registration means that EPA does not expect the product to cause adverse effects to human health or the environment when used according to the label.

According to the EPA, the most effective repellents are those that are applied directly to the skin.  The EPA also registers repellents such as clip-ons, lanterns, table top diffusers and candles/coils.  They do not register any products that rely on sound waves, as studies have not shown them to be effective.  The EPA has a listing of products that are registered for safe use.  The most common repellent uses DEET, which is found in over 400 products, has been in use since 1957 and is one of the most effective at repelling insects.  Other products contain ingredients that are registered with the EPA and have been shown to be effective and safe to apply to skin.  They include:  catnip oil (also known as Nepata cataria-cat mint); oil of citronella; IR 3535; Picaridin; Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus; and methyl-nonyl ketone.  There are many natural products that claim to prevent bites, including cedar oil, geranium oil, peppermint/peppermint oil, prickly pear cactus and soybean oil, but these have not been evaluated by the EPA for safety and effectiveness.  Note:  A product called Permethrin can be used on clothing and bed nets.  However, it should never be applied to the skin.

The EPA has a cool tool that will recommend a repellent for your circumstances.  You can find it at www.epa.gov, search find insect repellent right for you.  The EPA has also developed a graphic that you may start seeing on insect repellent products.  The graphic will state what the product best protects against (mosquitoes, ticks or both) and for how long the protection lasts (in hours).  Look for it on product labels.

The CT Department of Public Health has a fact sheet titled “A Guide to Using Insect Repellents Safely (February 2016) which is available at https://tinyurl.com/klc24x4  (District residents without internet access can call QVHD, 203 248-4528 for a copy).

There will still be those who will resist the use of an insect repellent.  But note:  the National Pesticide Information Center (www.npic.orst.edu) reports that the majority of reactions to an insect repellent, especially from DEET, are a result of MISUSE with a smaller number coming from an allergic reaction.  When you use any product that contains chemicals, you must always follow the directions.

Some reminders about safe insect repellent use:

  • Read the directions, especially for children. Products containing DEET can be used on children 2 months or older.  However oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under 3 years old.
  • Do not use repellents under clothing.
  • Do not apply repellents to areas of the skin that are cut, injured, or irritated.
  • To apply to face, apply the product to hands and then to the face, avoiding eyes and the mouth. Wash hands after applying.
  • Do not spray products in an enclosed area.
  • Do not spray products around food.
  • Be courteous of others if applying repellent at an outdoor event.
  • Wash off products when you return indoors.
  • Sunscreens and insect repellents can be used together. However, combination products are not recommended as sunscreen usually needs more frequent application.  When applying, use sunscreen first and repellent second.

Perhaps you never used insect repellent before.  After all, what’s a little insect bite?  In the ecology of Connecticut today, there are mosquitoes and ticks that can cause serious illnesses.  The consistent use of insect repellent is an important and proven intervention for preventing such illnesses.  You can learn more at www.cdc.gov , www.epa.gov  or www.npic.orst.edu.  For QVHD residents without internet access, call QVHD, 203 248-4528 for written information.  For more information on ticks and tick testing, visit the QVHD website, like us on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter.

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