With spring on the horizon, it’s time for pretty dresses, new shoes, cleaning and… bugs! One of the very few downsides to being outside is the potential for insect bites. Some may just be itchy and annoying, but others can be lifechanging. Many biting bugs carry diseases such as Lyme and the dreaded Zika, among others. You may be wondering which type of insect repellant is right for you. Here are some helpful tips to make sure you pick the best option for you and your family.
In the Backyard
Everyone loves a backyard party. Unfortunately, the fun can be hindered by a swarm of biting bugs. Insect repellants typically contain a host of scary sounding chemicals that may make you wonder if getting bit is safer. When you’re looking to buy bug spray for everyday use, there are some important things to look for on the label.
When a new product is marketed as an ‘insect repellant’ in the US, it must first register with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They conduct testing on the safety and effectiveness of each ingredient and give approval based on their findings. In order to be approved by the EPA, the product must be safe for use in children and pregnant women.
It is important that when selecting a repellant, you look for the EPA registration number on the label (ie. 123446-2). Registered skin applied ingredients include:
- Cat Nip Oil/Catmint
- Oil of citronella
- Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (chemical name: p-Menthane-3,8-diol)
If you’re in the market for a more natural option, cat nip, citronella and lemon eucalyptus oils would be your best choices. It is important to note, however, that despite its benign name, lemon eucalyptus should not be applied to children under 3 years. It could be very irritating to their gentle skin.
For the rest of the family, it’s a great natural option. Don’t apply any bug sprays to any area that is covered by clothing, and always follow the package instructions on how often to reapply. Also, if you don’t want to spray anything on your skin directly, all natural citronella candles make another great choice for backyard fun.
Is DEET Safe?
DEET (diethyltoluamide) was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture for use as an insect repellant for the Army in the 1940s. Since then, there has been extensive use of DEET by civilians, and it has been tested by the EPA for safety and effectiveness. At this time, there is nothing to show that it has any harmful effects to humans or the environment — when used appropriately, DEET is one of the most effective insect repellants on the market.
With that being said, you still may not feel comfortable covering your pregnant belly or your small child with ‘diethyltoluamide’ — that’s totally understandable! Depending on your location and local bug borne diseases, you may decide that citronella or lemon eucalyptus are good enough. However, if you live in or will be travelling to areas that have high number of dangerous biting insects, DEET might be the lesser of two evils.
Insect Borne Diseases
There are several different illnesses that are transmitted by insects to humans. Some are not very significant, such as EEE (Eastern Equine Encephalitis) or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Others, though, can have very significant harmful effects on pregnant women or small children.
Lyme disease is transmitted by the deer tick and is prevalent in the northeastern US. Muscle and/or joint pain, fever, depression, and fatigue are the hallmarks of this long lasting and difficult to cure infection. High dose antibiotics (which can cause their own negative effects) are usually needed to rid the body of Lyme, and unfortunately it can still have lasting symptoms. It can be passed through the placenta to the fetus, so being very careful during pregnancy is a must.
Zika – The Big One
Having been all over the news in recent months, the Zika virus is an expectant mother’s worst nightmare. The big problem is that the virus, passed by mosquitos, has very few symptoms and doesn’t seem much different from a regular head cold. To a pregnant woman, though, the effects to her fetus are debilitating. Microcephaly, or small head, is the major birth defect that Zika causes. It can stop the development of the brain, reducing the head size and ultimate survival of the infant.
Currently, the Zika virus is prevalent in South America and Western Africa. There is no vaccine or medications to treat the virus, either, so avoidance is the only option. The Center for Disease Control provides an up to date map of cases so if you’re planning to travel, make sure you choose an area that is free of cases. Also, Zika can be sexually transmitted so it is crucial that your partner also not travel to any of these affected regions.
So is DEET dangerous? Here’s what we know: Zika is dangerous, without question. If, for any reason, you have to travel to or live in a region where Zika is present, DEET is the safer option. Even if your best friend is planning a destination wedding, I’m sure she’ll understand if you can’t make it because you’re expecting.
The Devil You Know
When you’re looking to buy an insect repellant that is good for your family, natural options should be your first picks. However, there are some instances when you need to up the ante and make sure you are protected. Being safe from mosquitos and ticks during pregnancy especially is the safest option for everyone. Get out there any enjoy the great outdoors!