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Some Bug Repellents Are More Harmful than Helpful

Consumer Reports has some important advice on how to avoid bug bites and at the same time limit exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals in insect repellents.
Summer is around the corner, and so are swarms of insects. Consumer Reports has some important advice on how to avoid bug bites and at the same time limit exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals in insect repellents.

Well before he hears the sound of hungry mosquitoes, naturalist Jeff Main takes every precaution against insects and the serious … even deadly … diseases they can carry.

"There's West Nile associated with mosquitoes, and there's Lyme disease, of course, which is associated with tick bites," Main said.

Main always wears light-colored loose clothing with long sleeves. He tucks his pants into his socks. And he uses insect repellent, avoiding, if possible, those with the chemical DEET.

Consumer Reports has tested both types of repellents - those with DEET and plant-based ones without DEET.

Sue Byrne with Consumer Reports said, "We think that DEET is really an insect repellent that you should use as a last resort. And you should certainly not use it in any concentration of more than 30 percent."

Consumer Reports tests show 30 percent DEET works very well, so products, such as Jungle Juice 100, with nearly 100 percent DEET aren't necessary.

And with DEET exposure there are possible side effects, like skin blisters, slurred speech, and even seizures or coma.

Also avoid devices that clip on and use a fan to circulate repellent around you. Products like

Off Clip-on contain the active ingredient metofluthrin, which Consumer Reports says can pose risks to your nervous system. And their tests, done several years ago, found it doesn't work very well anyway.

Consumer Reports says instead consider using repellents that contain no DEET, like Repel's Lemon Eucalyptus or products with picaridin, which is similar to a compound in black pepper.

One caution on repellents using eucalyptus: The Centers for Disease Control says not to use them on children younger than three.

Here are some other tips to avoid bugs - when you're sitting outside, use a fan. It will help blow mosquitoes away. And after a hike, put your clothes in the dryer to kill any ticks you brought home with you.

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