Mosquito-borne illnesses, such as West Nile Virus, are on the rise in some parts of the country. Recently, a young California woman died of dengue hemorrhagic fever, a fatal illness caused by infected mosquitoes. So it?s more important than ever to use some form of insect repellent to stay bite-free. And DEET, the most effective common chemical used in insect repellents, may not be the answer.
While it?s effective, Mohamed Abou-Donia, PhD, a pharmacologist at Duke University Medical Center, recommends that DEET be used cautiously. Animal studies that he conducted found that DEETcaused brain-cell death and behavioral changes in laboratory animals when it?s used regularly over a long period of time.
Many brain cells that survived showed damage similar to that caused by free radicals. Skin irritation, burning lips, and painful blisters are just a few of the side effects that have been reported in people. Among the more severe problems are seizures in both children and adults.
DEET may be safe for you to use. Then again, it may not be.(Products that are more than 30% DEET are presently banned in Canada.) Instead of using an insect repellent with DEET, why not use natural products that are completely safe?
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No one knows why particular insect repellents work. The insects may not like its smell, or the active ingredient may just be an irritant to them. But we do know there are aromatic herbs that historically have been used to repel insects. They include pennyroyal, eucalyptus, mugwort, rosemary, and citronella. Some people use essential oils made from these herbs and dilute them in water, then spray it on their clothes and skin. If you go the natural route, try various products, as some are more effective than others.
All Terrain makes an effective insect repellant called Herbal Armor that contains a number of aromatic oils.
Now, researchers at Iowa State University have found a new herbal oil from Nepeta cateria, otherwise known as catnip, that?s very effective. In fact, it?s active ingredient, nepetalactone, is twice as effective as DEET in repelling mosquitoes.
These scientists believe that much less catnip oil is needed in an insect repellant than DEET. They?ve already applied for a patent to use nepetalactone as a repellent, so expect to see more commercial products with catnip oil in the future. You can already find a few products on the market.
One is Tropical Traditions Natural Insect Repellant which uses a coconut oil base so it will also moisturize your skin. A four-ounce bottle is $7.95. If you try this product, please let me know how it works for you. (Both the All Terrain and Tropical Traditions products are safe for kids.)
There is one obvious problem with nepetalactone - especially if you?re allergic to cats. People who have used it as an insect repellent say they felt like they had turned into a big catnip toy! Cats love this insect repellent as much as mosquitoes shun it. And the addition of other aromatic oils doesn?t change anything. Still, given the choice between a lapful of cats and mosquito bites, I?ll take the kitties any day.
Your voice of reason in Women's Health,
Dr. Janet Zand