Every summer parents agonize about the use of mosquito repellents. Lovely summer days draw the whole family out into the forests and fields, gardens and swimming pools, into the world of mosquitoes, ticks, flies and other bugs. Thankfully, there are all those nice insect repellent full of DEET, that keep us safe and our skin without horrid welts and spots that itch endlessly. But, how safe we are from DEET? The reports vary and finding reliable information is difficult. The report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal compiled and analyzed large number of available studies and produced the verdict: DEET is safe, unless you eat it.
DEET and babies
A number of reports in the media, supported by the medical community, suggested that children should not be exposed to DEET more than once a day, and that products with DEET should not be used on babies at all because of the danger of seizures. Canadian report reviewed the existing evidence and found that there was no report of seizures linked to the use of DEET-based products since 1992, and that the previous reports failed to establish the link between the two. CDC also warned against making the unfounded cause and effect conclusion, since there is no scientific base for it. DEET is a safe protection of babies from diseases such as West Nile Virus, as long as you use it every three hours, as recommended.
Similar findings were shows about the effect of DEET on pregnant women and unborn babies. A study on 897 women in Thailand who used DEET-based insect repellent regularly as a protection from dengue fever and malaria shows no ill effects on pregnant women nor on their babies. The conclusion was that the product was safe as long as it was used as recommended.
How much DEET is enough?
Mosquito repellents with DEET or N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide reach the peak of their effectiveness at the concentration of 50 percent. So, everything with more than 50 percents DEET is overkill. When compared with other mosquito repellents available on the market, a product containing 10 percents DEET provides a longer period of protection – three hours – than any other repellent currently available. Products containing citronella and lavender oil protect you from 30 minutes to two hours maximum. Interestingly, such natural products are advertised as a safer alternative to DEET, but their potential toxicity has not been evaluated at all and there have been no scientific studies to evaluate their effectiveness.
If you are traveling through the tropics this summer, stock up with a good lotion, spray or some other product with 10 percents of DEET, wear long sleeves and long pants in the evening and early morning, and reapply your repellent every three hours or after swimming. This is particularly important if the area is known for the cases of West Nile Virus. Wash your hands after applying repellent so that you do not end up eating it. While your insect repellent will protect you from other kinds of mosquitoes, if the area where you are traveling has malaria, talk to your doctor about the anti-malaria prophylaxis. Better safe than sorry.