Not all repellent methods are equal

by Kevin O’Connor

Mosquitoes and ticks have started biting again. In the Eastern USA you can expect to start seeing mosquitoes as early as April and ticks by May. In California in warmer areas, the pest season can be much longer. In the next few months you can also expect to be hearing a bit more about diseases spread by these arthropods. As we move into our second summer of Zika you will likely be hearing a lot about mosquitoes, but it is important to keep ticks in mind as well.

For the first time, ticks have been reported in areas of California. They are not only back East. Ticks and mosquitoes are not just annoying pests that leave you itchy. Together these arthropods are responsible for most of the emerging infectious diseases in the world today. Additionally, with only a few exceptions, the diseases spread by these arthropods cannot be prevented by vaccinations.

The best defense against these highly efficient arthropods is taking measures to avoid getting bitten, such as using insect repellents. However, not all repellent methods are equal. Here are some facts regarding repellents that your family may want to know.

DEET is commonly considered the gold standard of repellents, this chemical ingredient has for decades proven itself as effective against mosquitoes and ticks. Decades of use of DEET have not resulted in any significant detriment to health including no evidence of causing cancer or resulting in birth defects when used as directed. We have learned that DEET should not be worn under sunscreen or clothing and is a strong eye irritant and may damage some plastics and fabrics.

Picaridin is a chemical found in plants that produce black pepper. Some studies have indicated that picaridin may be slightly more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET and may also provide longer protection times. It is odorless, non-irritating, and does not melt plastics.

IR3535 is a chemical that has been used in Europe for more than 20 years with no serious adverse effects reported. Evidence suggests that IR3535 is as effective as DEET at repelling ticks, but is slightly less effective than DEET at repelling mosquitoes. We find that concentrations weaker than 10% may not be effective, and we should avoid brands with added sunscreen. IR3535 is also a serious eye irritant and also melts some plastic and damages some fabrics.

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus originates as an extract of the eucalyptus tree. The tree extract can be refined to create an oil known as PMD. It has been reported that this oil is not recommended for use on children 3 years old or younger. It can irritate lungs and may contain possible allergens.

In final analysis of all repellents, do not rely on just repellents. Use clothing to protect as much skin as possible and perform regular tick checks. Families must always follow the product label instructions. When used as directed, these insect repellents are proved safe and effective even for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Reapply insect repellent only as directed. Do not spray repellent on the skin under clothing. Finally, if you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen first. It does not hurt to ask questions of your pharmacist and your dermatologist.

Knowledge is vital to good service to the families we care about in the California communities we serve. To speak with one of our technicians for service, call 1-800-284-7985.

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