Best insect repellants for Zika protection

Mosquito season (i.e., summer) is approaching, and travel-associated Zika cases will likely continue to rise in the U.S. That means it's time to load up on the bug spray, and all repellants are not created equal.

USE: A chemical called DEET is the active ingredient in many insect repellant products and is deemed by some to be the most effective in deterring mosquitoes.

Dermatologist Brian Horvath, MD, endorsed DEET in an interview with CBS Pittsburgh, citing products consisting of 10 to 30 percent of DEET sufficient for protection.

"DEET is definitely the most effective...the 10 percent will last around two hours. Thirty percent will last about five hours...anything beyond 30 or 40 percent at the most doesn't really have any increased effectiveness," said Dr. Horvath.

DEET has been around since the 1940s and is safe for pregnant women to use, though it should not be ingested. For this reason, the substance should not be applied to the hands of children.

"DEET is a neurotoxin, so if children were to ingest it, it could potentially affect their nervous system," said Dr. Horvath.

Some do not care for the smell and sticky texture of DEET. The alternative is picaridin, a repellant approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2005.

"There are some studies that suggest it's as effective, if not slightly more effective, than DEET in certain situations," said Dr. Horvath. "It's a synthetic version of a pepper plant derivative. So some people think of it as being more a natural insect repellent, though it is still made in factories."

DON'T USE: Essential oils like peppermint and rosemary are not very effective in repelling mosquitoes and should be avoided. To remain effective, they must be applied every 20 minutes.

A standard repellant product that should be avoided is citronella.

"Citronella definitely is not very effective at preventing insect bites. Lemon oil of eucalyptus may be slightly better than some other essential oils. But still nowhere as effective as DEET or picaridin," said Dr. Horvarth.

Find more information about insect repellant use and safety here.

More articles on the Zika virus: 
6 things to know about the search for Zika's patient zero  
Scientists clone Zika virus to aid in vaccine development  
Half of local health departments worry about cuts to Zika response funding 

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