Mosquito Protection Choices and DEET

Mosquito Protection Choices and DEET

Published: July 6th, 2011

Summertime means warmer weather, spending more time outdoors and with that, a higher level of exposure to mosquito bites. Most of us want to enjoy outdoor activities, but we should educate ourselves on the safest methods to protect our families and pets from potential disease transmission as well as over-exposure to chemically-based insect repellant products.
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About 10 percent of the 2000 species of mosquitoes live in North America. Thriving in humid and damp areas, mosquitoes reproduce quickly and are most active at dawn and dusk. According to the Mayo Clinic, mosquitoes can carry and transmit a myriad of diseases including West Nile Virus, Malaria, Dengue Fever, Yellow Fever, and Heartworm, a parasite affecting household pets.


DEET (chemical name N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is the active ingredient in many insect repellents and is an organic solvent used in rubber and plastic cements and paint removers. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), insect repellents that contain DEET offer the best protection against mosquito bites.

In the U.S., concentrations of DEET products designed for skin application range from 4% to 100%. However, Health Canada, a department of the Canadian Federal Government, has banned
products with DEET concentrations over 30%, citing health risks and evidence that increasing the percentage does not do much more to repel insects.


DEET is absorbed through the skin and passes into the blood. The Medical Sciences Bulletin, published by Pharmaceutical Information Associates Ltd., reports, "Up to 56% of DEET applied topically penetrates intact human skin and 17% is absorbed into the bloodstream." Frequent or heavy dermal exposures of DEET have led to skin rashes, blisters, and skin and mucous membrane irritation. Reported cases involving higher DEET concentrations or more frequent applications include incidents of reproductive and developmental effects, placental transmission, and in rare cases, death.

The Duke University Medical Center News Office suggests that DEET should be used with caution due to possible damaging effects on brain cells following prolonged use. Studies involving DEET exposure in rats revealed negative impacts on muscle movement and control,
learning, memory, concentration, strength and coordination. These findings are consistent with reported human symptoms following military personnel DEET use in the Persian Gulf War and symptoms of memory loss, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, tremors, and shortness of breath, which may not be evident until months or years following exposure.

Symptoms may be compounded by combining DEET with other medications or chemicals. Children are particularly vulnerable to brain-related deficits because their skin more readily absorbs chemicals in their environment and their nervous systems are still developing. Due to these findings and the fact that further studies are needed to identify long-term effects, sources including Duke University recommend adhering to the following guidelines when using DEET.


  • Use insecticides containing DEET sparingly and infrequently.
  • Be wary of using insect repellants containing DEET on children. NEVER use insect repellant containing DEET on infants. Do not exceed 10% strength on children under age 12. Do not apply 10% strength more than once daily on children under age 2.
  • Do not combine insecticides or use them while using DEET.
  • Always wash DEET products from the skin after returning indoors or before sleeping. Read and adhere to product manufacturer’s instructions when using DEET.
  • DEET products with concentrations in excess of 30% should be avoided or limited.
  • Adults should not exceed 3 applications of DEET per day.
  • Do not apply DEET to open cuts, sores, or irritated skin, or under clothing.
  • Keep DEET products out of the reach of children.
  • Do not spray DEET in closed areas.
  • Limit exposure to breeding areas with still/standing water.
  • Utilize mosquito traps. Utilize child-safe and pet-safe mosquito repellant products. Utilize mosquito netting, especially to protect infants. Use yellow outdoor lighting to reduce mosquito attraction. Use outdoor fans.
  • Limit outdoor time around dusk and dawn.
  • Wear long sleeves, long pants and socks while outdoors.
  • Plant mosquito-repelling plants: lemon balm, catnip, basil and lemon geraniums.

Use alternative repellants including:
(Certain people may have sensitivity or allergy to the alternatives suggested.)
• Botanical-based repellants
• Eucalyptus-based repellants
• Soy-based repellants
• Citronella-based repellants
• Vanilla-based repellants
• Tea-tree Oil based repellants
Mosquito coil smoke devices emit toxic smoke and are not recommended.

Keeping your family safe while participating in outdoor summer fun will give you the peace of mind you need to enjoy this lovely season to its fullest!

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