Yes, the mosquitoes are bad, but no, don't use DEET

Heavy rains and flooding across Iowa have created a wonderful environment for mosquito populations to explode. I rode to and from Grinnell on Friday and saw field after field with huge pools of standing water, even after a solid week of sunny weather in central Iowa.

Mr. desmoinesdem heard someone from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources say on Iowa Public Radio that mosquito counts this summer are about seven times higher than they were at the same time last year.

The Des Moines Register ran two articles about mosquitoes within the past week. The good news is that the mosquitoes that thrive in puddles on saturated ground are largely “nuisance species that can’t efficiently spread West Nile virus,” according to Ann Garvey, state public health veterinarian for the Iowa Department of Public Health.

The bad news is that experts cited in the Register are still encouraging people to use DEET-based insect repellents. The Register reported that the IDPH recommends “DEET at less than 30 percent concentrations to avoid potential health problems, including neurological problems.”

Dr. Denis Reavis, an urgent care physician at Mercy North in Ankeny quoted in this Register article, said DEET is the most effective way to prevent mosquito bites. The Register added:

DEET comes in different strengths for kids and adults. Babies less than 2 months old should not come in any contact with DEET.

Having researched this issue a few years ago after my older son was born, I would not recommend that anyone, even adults, use DEET in a household with children.

The Environmental Protection Agency does not permit DEET products to be labeled “child safe” and requires labels directing parents not to allow children to handle the product. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Environmental Protection Agency both recommend precautions when applying DEET to children, such as washing skin treated with DEET as well as treated clothing when children return inside. Few families find it practical to bathe their children and wash their clothing every time they come in from outside during the summer.

Kids Health for Parents, a web site published by the Nemours Foundation, recommends that repellents containing DEET be used “sparingly” on children between the ages of 2 and 12 and not put on their faces or hands, because children so frequently put their hands in their mouths.

The Lyme Disease Foundation has this advice for keeping ticks away: “On skin, use a repellent containing DEET. But don’t overdo it. Too much bug spray can cause breathing difficulty, especially in children.”

In any event, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has found that “picaridin and the oil of lemon eucalyptus provide the same level of protection [from mosquitoes] as DEET.”

I’ve tried several of the natural bug repellents mentioned in this piece, including Buzz Away, Buzz Away Extreme and Bug Ease. They all seem to work equally well. The main difference between them and DEET is that you have to reapply the natural repellents more frequently, about every one to two hours. Usually that’s no problem for me, because I only need it when I walk the dog or take the kids to the park for an hour or two.

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