Travelling to exotic and tropical places such as the Caribbean, South America or the Pacific Islands can be pretty great and exciting, but a lot of people are worried about mosquitos and other insects that are common for these kind of places. So a lot of people recommend to bring an insect repellent that contains DEET for protection against insects and all the viruses and diseases that they carry such as malaria, dengue fever and ZIKA. The ZIKA virus was spreading with a great speed all across South America and the Caribbean, this virus infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly, as well as other severe fetal brain defects, and it can trigger nervous system disorders in adults.
DEET is designed for direct application to people’s skin to repel insects. Rather than killing them, DEET works by making it hard for these biting bugs to smell us. After it was developed by the U.S. Army in 1946, DEET was registered for use by the general public in 1957. Approximately 120 products containing DEET are currently registered with EPA by about 30 different companies
A large group of people are also questioning the safety of products that contain DEET, there have been rumors that insect repellents are not safe to use on children or on pregnant women.
Dr. James Logan, senior lecturer in medical entomology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, recommends using repellents containing 20-50 per cent DEET in tropical countries.
A new review of existing studies headed by Dr. Logan concludes there isn’t enough evidence to show that DEET is unsafe for human use. The review, published in the open access journal Parasites and Vectors (must credit), found the benefits of avoiding disease-spreading insect bites outweigh any risks associated with applying DEET to the skin. It discovered only one existing human trial on the safety of DEET, in pregnant women in Thailand. This study compared women who used a DEET-based repellent to prevent malaria transmission to a control group. There was evidence of traces of DEET in the children, suggesting that the substance could cross the placental barrier, but, crucially, no differences in the health of the babies between the DEET treatment group and the control group babies. The review also looked at existing animal studies to assess the safest amount of DEET to use in repellents and found that insufficient evidence had been gained from these to justify any imposed limits on concentration of DEET. Based on this, the authors weigh the safety risks found in trials against the protection that DEET-based repellents give against transmission of diseases. Dr. Logan said the best protection against insect-borne illness was to avoid getting bitten, but repellent played an important part in reducing the burden of illness. He said ‘Our review article found very few studies that suggested any adverse effect of DEET. ‘In fact, there were only 14 cases of encephalopathy associated with DEET since 1957 which is extremely small considering the estimated 200 million applications of DEET to the skin each year.
So most doctors would recommend to use DEET products while travelling to exotic places, but when you are choosing your insect repellent make sure they have at least 15-20 percent in DEET percentage. And always follow the instruction on the label for proper use.
- Apply repellents only to exposed skin and/or clothing). Do not apply repellents under your clothing.
- Never use repellents over cuts, wounds or irritated skin.
- Do not apply to eyes or mouth, and apply sparingly around ears. When using repellent sprays, do not spray directly on your face—spray on your hands first and then apply to your face.
- Do not allow children to handle or spray the product. When using on children, apply to your own hands first and then put it on the child. Avoid applying repellent to children’s hands because children frequently put their hands in their eyes and mouths.
- Use just enough repellent to cover exposed skin and/or clothing. Heavy application does not give you better or longer lasting protection.
- After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water or bathe. This is particularly important when repellents are used repeatedly in a day or on consecutive days.
- If you get a rash or other reaction from a repellent, stop using the repellent, wash the repellent off with mild soap and water, and call a local poison control center for further guidance. If you go to a doctor, it might be helpful to take the repellent with you.