Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Safer Bug Repellents

You're sitting outside, watching the sunset, grilling dinner and then it happens... an invasion of mosquitos crashes your party!

You can dip your family in a DEET insecticide or try a less toxic repellent.

WebMD recommends:

Bite Blocker for Kids

A 2002 study found it was the most effective natural alternative to DEET. This natural bug repellent offered more than 90 minutes of protection, better than some low-concentration DEET products.

Oil of lemon Eucalyptus

The Centers for Disease Control recommend it as a DEET alternative, however, do not use it on kids under three years old. These products tested much better than citronella, peppermint oil and other plant based oils.

I talked to Sonya Lunder, MPH, a senior analyst at the non-profit, research based, consumer advocacy group, Environmental Working Group.

She offers these tips:

-DEET is effective if the disease risk is high. When it comes to kids, read the labels and select the lowest concentration.

-Use pump products with less than 10 percent DEET and if possible, apply to your kids clothing instead of skin.

-NEVER use DEET on babies under 6 months and use sparingly on kids. Don't apply to kids' faces or hands. Never apply more than 3 times a day.

-Make sure you (adults) don't use products with more than 30 percent DEET. Canada banned products with more than 30 percent DEET in 2002.

WebMD offers additional natural ways to beat the bugs:

Long sleeves and pants. Yes, it's probably obvious. But, one good form of natural insect control is to cover your arms and legs. While a mosquito might be able to get through very thin clothing, moderately thick fabric will stop them. No mosquito is going to bite you through a canvass shirt, says Lunder.

Fans. Here's a natural insect control tip. Mosquitoes have trouble maneuvering in wind. So, when you're sitting out on our porch, think about using a window fan or overhead fan. The mosquitoes will have trouble getting near you.

Environmental control. Eliminate standing water in your yard, which will prevent mosquitoes from breeding. Empty bird baths weekly and fill puddles with dirt.

Citronella candles. Despite the lore, citronella candles - or other natural bug repellent candles - don't seem to work very well. They could even have risks. I'd caution people about burning bug-repellent products, like citronella candles, says Lunder. Inhalation is a very direct form of exposure, so you're breathing in whatever chemicals are in the product.

Bug zappers. Don't bother. Sure, they may electrocute loads of bugs, but they usually kill beneficial insects that eat pests or serve as food for birds. One study showed that of all the insects slaughtered by bug zappers, a mere 0.13 percent were biting mosquitoes.

Ultrasonic devices. Again, don't bother. They don't work.

Traps. Relatively new on the scene, these devices use various methods to attract and then trap mosquitoes. Many give off carbon dioxide, mimicking a breathing animal or person. While they certainly do trap mosquitoes, experts aren't sure how well they control mosquito populations in a given area. You'll also have to decide whether the device itself - which might run on a gas-powered engine - is preferable to the bugs.

Permethrin-treated products. Permethrin is a kind of chemical repellent that's added to some clothing, shoes, and camping gear. While the idea of wearing a shirt treated with an insecticide might make you uneasy, Lunder points out that it has an advantage.

It's not being applied directly on your skin, so it could be a really good option, she tells WebMD. However, Lunder cautions that you should probably wash permethrin-treated clothing separately from other laundry. Like DEET, permethrin is a neurotoxin that can affect the nervous system. You may want to weigh using either chemical against the risk of disease-carrying insects.