Choosing a protective mosquito repellent

InsectRepllentMosquitoes can transmit all kinds of diseases, including West Nile virus here in Idaho, and zika, dengue fever, and malaria in other parts of the country and world. Preventing mosquito bites is the best way to avoid these diseases, but there is a lot of misinformation about insect repellents that causes people to be reluctant to use them or even to avoid them. So today, we’re going to talk about those insect repellents and how you should choose one that will give you and your family the best protection.

I hear over and over that we should choose EPA-approved insect repellents. What does that mean?

The EPA approval is important because we don’t know the effectiveness of insect repellents that are not registered with the EPA. When repellents are registered, they have been tested for their effectiveness and safety, and so you know you are protected and for how long. You can check the EPA website for a list of registered repellents.

Are there certain ingredients we should be aware of?

Higher percentages of active ingredients such as DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (also called para-menthane-diol), and 2-undecanone provide protection from mosquito bites for longer and don’t need to be reapplied nearly as often.

Is DEET safe for everyone, including pregnant women and children and babies?

Generally, yes. But there are some precautions to take. Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old. Do not apply it onto babies’ hands, eyes, mouth, or cut or irritated skin. To apply it on a child’s or adult’s face, you should spray the repellent onto your hands and then apply it, avoiding contact with eyes and mouth. Always follow the product label instructions, especially for children.

Are there other things to consider about insect repellents for babies and children?

Always follow the label instructions when using insect repellent on babies and children. Again, don’t use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old. Products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or paramenthane-diol should not be used on children younger than 3. Regardless of the insect repellent you use, you should dress your children (and yourselves) in clothing that covers arms and legs – this can prevent mosquito bites as well.

If a person is using sunscreen and insect repellent, which goes on first?

You should apply the sunscreen first, and the insect repellent second.

Anything else?

The bottom line is that when insect repellents are used as directed on the labels, they are safe and effective at preventing mosquito bites, even for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. We all need to do whatever we can to prevent mosquito bites. That includes using insect repellent and wearing clothing that covers our skin between dusk and dawn, as well as keeping mosquitoes out of our homes and cabins by repairing holes in screens, dumping out standing water on our property and changing water in ponds and bird baths weekly. The inconvenience is worth it if it helps us stay safe and healthy.

A Closer Look at Your Health airs weekly on KBOI Newsradio 670 in Boise; this is a transcript of the July 25 program. 

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