Avoiding Chemicals

May 1, 2005

National report — West Nile Virus caused nearly 10,000 illnesses and more than 250 deaths nationally in 2003, and in 2004 people were looking for ways to protect themselves from the most common mosquito-borne disease in this country. One problem some face is that safety concerns still exist about some of the chemicals designed to deter mosquitoes.

DEET The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded that, as long as consumers follow label directions and take proper precautions, insect repellents containing DEET do not present a health concern. Human exposure is expected to be brief, and long-term exposure is not anticipated.

Based on extensive toxicity testing, the EPA believes that the normal use of DEET does not present a health concern to the general population, but other health care researchers contend that prolonged exposure to DEET can cause damage to neurons in the brain.

Where the buck stops "The dermatologist is kind of where the buck stops. If a patient comes in and is allergic to DEET, if the dermatologist can't help them, who can? So when we do these 'pearls' of wisdom, we try to give helpful hints to dermatologists in practice for those unusual cases where they need some creativity. They might not work as well as the manufactured products but they may provide some protection for people who don't have any other option," Dr. Kayne says.

Dermatologists are very familiar with the practice of the off-label use of medications, he says, so they might think of some of these "home remedies" as a type of off-label use of everyday items.

"You wouldn't necessarily think of vitamins as an insect repellent, but it can work that way," he maintains.

Dr. Kayne assembled some anecdotal suggestions from the literature and the Internet:

Home remedies

Dr. Kayne also offered a recipe for a homemade concoction to repel mosquitoes (see graphic).

"(The recipe) has some ingredients in it that appear to be related to materials long considered insect repellents," he says. "The geranium oil would be a natural form of pyrethrum, and people make cedar closets and chests to keep moths away from stored clothing. It's all the same idea."

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