Health Information on Mosquito Control
Tick and Insect Repellents
Chemical repellents provide protection against biting insects and ticks
that can transmit diseases. Various forms and concentrations of
these products are available. The most effective repellents contain
DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide). This chemical has been tested
against a variety of biting insects and has been shown to be very
effective. Some non-DEET repellent products which are intended to be
applied directly to the skin also provide some protection from mosquito
bites. However, studies have suggested that non-DEET products do not
offer the same level of protection, or that the protection does not last
as long as products containing DEET. Products containing DEET are
safe when used according to directions. Because DEET is so widely
used, a great deal of information is available about its safety.
Over the long history of DEET use, very few confirmed incidents of toxic
reactions to DEET have occurred when the product is used properly.
Selecting an Insect Repellent
Products containing up to about 30% DEET are considered safe
for use in routine control of ticks and mosquitoes in adults and children
over two months of age. According to the American Academy of
Pediatrics, products containing about 15% DEET are generally sufficient to
protect children in situations where concern about the spread of
vector-borne disease is not particularly high. The U.S. EPA
recommends that great caution be used in using DEET on children and states
that products with DEET concentrations of 10% or lower are effective for
children and may be preferred for most situations.
Some chemical repellents include products used to
treat clothing which contain permethrin or permanone. These products
should not be used on skin. Because of the number of insect
repellents available to the public, consumers should choose products
Generally, products for tick control will contain
more DEET than those for mosquito control. In all cases, label
instructions should be followed to ensure that a product is necessary and
sufficient for your needs.
Safe Use of Insect Repellents
- Apply repellent sparingly, and only to exposed
skin or clothing. One application will last four to eight hours.
- Whenever possible, wear long sleeves, pants,
shoes and socks, and apply repellent to clothing instead of to skin.
- Do not apply repellents to eyelids, lips or
- Do not spray repellents in a confined space such
as a car or tent.
- Wash treated skin with soap and water after
coming indoors. Wash hands before eating.
Precautions for Special Populations
Insect repellents containing DEET have been used safely for decades by
all segments of the population, and there is no evidence that using these
products in accordance with product instructions carries an increased risk
of adverse effects for any particular group. These tips, however,
may help reduce the risk of excessive exposure and ensure that mosquitoes
are adequately controlled.
- Consider non-chemical methods of mosquito avoidance,
including wearing protective clothing, avoiding mosquito habitat
and staying indoors during times of peak exposure.
- When using repellent, wash treated skin when protection is
no longer needed.
- Consult your health care provider before using repellent
products that do not contain DEET.
- Because of concerns about increased skin permeability, DEET
should not be applied to children under two months of age.
- Do not apply repellents to children’s hands or allow them to
apply repellents or to play with empty containers.
- Always store repellents out of reach of small
In rare instances, skin reactions may occur. If you
suspect a reaction to this product, discontinue use, wash the treated
skin, and call your local poison control center. Cases of serious
reactions to products containing DEET have been related to misuse of the
product, such as swallowing, using over broken skin, and using for
multiple days without washing skin in between use. Always follow the
instructions on the product label.
If you have further questions about the use of
insect repellents, contact your family physician, pharmacist, or local
public health agency. Some product manufacturers provide a telephone
number on the container for consumers to call for additional information.
Additional Fact Sheets on Mosquito Control
For more information
For health related questions, contact the Division of Public Health, Bureau of
Environmental and Occupational Health,
PO Box 2659, Madison, WI 53701-2659, (608) 266-1120.
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September 24, 2013