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Not all repellants are created equal.

Insects have the potential to make you sick. They can spread diseases such as Dengue Fever, Malaria, Chinkugunya, Zika, Yellow Fever, Lyme’s disease, West Nile Virus, and others. But just because this potential exists, it should not prevent anyone from exploring the great outdoors. With a few simple precautions, you can be protected from these diseases and safely explore the world. Insect repellents, along with other precautions can prevent insect borne illness.

One positive thing that occurred after last year’s Zika virus outbreaks is the dramatic increase in the selection of insect repellent products. An Amazon search for insect repellents in August of 2016 found more than 13,000 products to choose from. This spring the same search turned up around 25,000 products. Not just sprays, but creams, clothing, skin patches, bracelets, and even live plants. Many of these products offer excellent protection, but many do not. Immo Hansen, a scientist at New Mexico State University states, “In many cases, the claims made by vendors of these products are exaggerated or outright false.”

We found a great resource from Consumer Reports that lists five types of insect repellents to avoid. Here they are:

1. Natural Repellents

It sounds like a good idea to use products like clove, lemon grass, or rosemary oil rather than a chemical repellent. The problem is that natural repellents are regulated differently from other products. The EPA does not evaluate natural products for effectiveness, and because they are not regulated, companies can make claims about their products without proving that they actually work. When Consumer Reports tested these products they found that in fact, they really don’t work.

2. Wrist Bands

Wristbands seem like they would be safe because they don’t require you to rub any chemicals on your skin. Again, the problem is that they don’t work. Consumer Reports tested two wristband products, and found them to be ineffective. Last May the Federal Trade Commission fined one wristband manufacturer $300,000 for false advertising.

3. Sonic Repellents

Ultrasonic devices claim to emit a high frequency sound that the human ear can’t hear, but supposedly drives mosquitoes away. These don’t work either. Last year the New York Attorney General’s Office sent cease and desist letters to two specific brands of sonic repellents, and said “Numerous scientific studies show that (these devices) don’t repel mosquitoes and may even attract mosquitoes.”

4. Clip-On Fans

These devices clip to your waistband and use a fan to circulate a repellent into the air around you. The CDC says these products have not been adequately tested for effectiveness, and when Consumer Reports conducted their own tests they were found to be far less effective than spray on repellents. Another big concern is that some brands use the chemical metofluthrin, which the EPA has classified as a neurotoxin and possible carcinogen.

5. Citronella Candles

Consumer Reports tested citronella candles and citronella diffusers and found them to be ineffective at keeping mosquitoes away.

The CDC has conducted numerous studies on the safety and effectiveness of insect repellents. The following products are proven to prevent insect bites and are also proven to be safe, when used according to the label. These products are safe for use by pregnant or breastfeeding women. They are also safe for use by children with the exception of Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, which should not be used on children less than three years of age.

  1. DEET

  2. Picairdin (also know as KBR 3023, Bayrepel, and icaridin)

  3. Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE) or Para-menthane-diol (PMD)

  4. IR3535

  5. 2-undecanone

For more information, visit the links at the bottom of this page. And set up an appointment with our travel nurse before your trip. We carry several options for appropriate insect repellents in our office to be used on skin and clothing. We ensure that discussing insect precautions remains one of the priorities of your visit with us.

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