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Insect repellants: use extreme caution.

Insect Repellents: Use Extreme Caution

Insect repellents have been widely used for many years. In the early 1900s, people applied oily preparations containing turpentine, cedarwood, eucalyptus, or wintergreen to their skin. After World War II, these products were demonstrated to be useless. Since then, more than 15,000 compounds have been tested, but only a few have been found effective and safe enough to apply to the skin.

The ideal insect repellent should have a pleasant odor, protect for several hours, and be effective against a wide variety of insects. Repellents do not kill insects, but rather keep certain species away from the treated areas. Most repellents are volatile, and after they are applied to the skin or clothing, the released vapor discourages insects from approaching.

The best all-purpose insect repellent is diethyltoluamide (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide), commonly called "deet." Deet is effective against a wide variety of mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks, fleas, and biting flies. No insect repellent is available that is effective against stinging insects, such as yellow jackets, wasps, hornets, honeybees, and fire ants. Ethyl hexanediol, dimethyl phthalate, dimethyl carbate, and butopyronoxyl are also effective repellents, but do not cover as wide a range of insects as deet. The United States Armed Forces has used products containing 75% deet or 65% ethyl hexanediol for a long time. A mixture of two or more of these repellents is now found in many commercial products, because the combination is effective against a greater variety of insects than is any single-ingredient repellent.

Today's consumer has several insect repellents from which to choose. Among these are 6-12 Plus, Deep Woods Off!, Jungle Formula, Jungle Plus, Muskol, and Repel. Most of these products come in different forms (spray, stick, or liquid), with concentrations of deet ranging from 5% to 100%.

What many people do not know is that after being sprayed or applied to the skin, some of the deet is absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream. Approximately 10 to 15% of the chemical later appears in the urine. Before the availability of high concentrations of deet, most of the toxic reactions were the result of excessive or prolonged use -- especially in infants and children. Encephalopathy, a disease of the brain, has been seen in children who were sprayed repeatedly with products containing 10 to 15% deet. There have also been reports of skin rashes and itching in both children and adults after the application of low concentrations of deet.

Now that higher concentrations of deet are available to the public, there have been reports of more serious reactions in adults as well as children after brief exposures to small amounts of the chemical. In Canada, an eight-year-old child developed a rash and a change in behavior after using a 15% deet repellent for a few days. She switched to another insect repellent that contained almost 100% deet and had a grand mal epileptic seizure within a few hours. And a woman who was allergic to deet developed anaphylaxis and had difficulty in breathing after just touching someone else who had applied a 52% deet repellent.

The points to remember when selecting an insect repellent include the following:

1. Products that contain lower concentrations of the repellent may be safer and less oily, but they will usually have to be applied more frequently.

2. Products that contain high concentrations of the repellent will usually be effective longer and repel a wider variety of insects. However, they involve a greater risk of allergic and toxic effects.

3. No insect repellent should ever be applied for prolonged periods' of time or used in excessive amounts.

4. Insect repellents should never be applied to cuts or to broken skin.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Smith, Dorothy L.
Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Mar 22, 1989
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