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Consumer Reports: Insect Repellents

Posted at 8:20 AM, May 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-24 08:20:41-04

The Zika virus has spread to more than 40 countries in the Western Hemisphere. And while experts don’t expect an epidemic on the U.S. mainland, they do expect local outbreaks, especially in communities and cities around the Gulf Coast. Other diseases including West Nile and Lyme are already common throughout the country. Consumer Reports has advice on the best insect repellents to stay safe this summer.

The Zika outbreak continues to dominate the news, and with no vaccine for the virus and no drug to treat Zika infections, it has become devastatingly clear that avoiding mosquito bites is essential.

Consumer Reports’ Jeneen Interlandi says Zika isn’t the only insect-borne threat this summer.

“The dengue, Chikungunya and West Nile viruses are also spread by mosquitoes. And tick-borne illnesses, Lyme disease, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are becoming more and more common.”

Consumer Reports tests insect repellents and says not all products provide the same level of protection.

Testers looked at 16 insect repellents — with a range of active ingredients — for their effectiveness at repelling bites from the Aedes mosquito that can carry Zika and Chikungunya and the Culex mosquito known to spread West Nile virus.

The lab also tested the repellents against deer ticks, which can carry Lyme and other diseases.

While choosing a natural or

plant-oil-based insect repellent instead of one containing deet might seem like a good idea, Consumer Reports found otherwise.

"Five out of the six that we tested lasted only an hour and a half or even less against the Aedes mosquito, which is of course the one that carries the Zika virus.”

The exception — Repel 30% Lemon Eucalyptus — was able to ward off Aedes mosquitoes for seven hours.

Others that did well in Consumer Reports tests — Sawyer 20% Picaridin and Ben’s 30% Deet Tick and Insect Wilderness Formula.

When used properly, most of these products are safe for children, and all are safe for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.

In response to Consumer Reports’ concerns about natural insect repellents, a trade group, the Natural Products Association, says that some plant oils do work, and some people want alternatives to deet.

You can find more of Consumer Reports’ advice on finding an effective repellent on their website.