Consumer Reports has released new rankings of mosquito repellents that offer the best protection against Aedes mosquitoes, the type that carry the Zika virus.
The World Health Organization this month declared the rapid spread of the Zika virus, linked to serious birth defects, an international public health emergency.
The Zika virus can make anyone sick for up to a week with fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes, and other symptoms. But it's especially dangerous for women who are pregnant or considering pregnancy because it's believed to boost the risk of babies born with microcephaly, a condition marked by an abnormally small head and incomplete brain development.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged pregnant women against travel to two dozen countries where Zika has been reported in Latin America and the Caribbean.
No cases have yet been traced to mosquito bites received in the U.S., but experts predict the disease will spread to the use in coming months, particularly in Florida, Texas, and other Southern states where the mosquitoes that carry the disease are most prevalent.
There is no vaccine or treatment for the virus, making it prevention essential, according to the CDC. Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants when outdoors, eliminating standing water where mosquitoes breed, and the use of repellents are all key ways to avoid mosquito bites.
For its latest rankings, Consumer Reports tested products containing deet or a chemical called IR3535, as well as those containing two plantlike ingredients: lemon eucalyptus and picaridin. Testers also looked at repellents made with natural plant oils, such as geraniol, castor oil, soybean oil, citronella, and rosemary.
The most effective products against Aedes mosquitoes included Sawyer Fisherman's Formula Picaridin and Natrapel 8 Hour, which each contain 20 percent picaridin, and Off! Deepwoods VIII, which contains 25 percent deet. These repellents kept mosquitoes from biting for about eight hours.
Repel Lemon Eucalyptus, containing 30 percent lemon eucalyptus, stopped bites for seven hours. But the IR3535 products didn’t make Consumer Reports’ list of recommended sprays. Neither did products that contained 5 percent picaridin or 7 percent deet.
“We advise skipping products made with natural plant oils, such as California Baby Natural Bug Blend (a blend of citronella, lemongrass oil, cedar oil, and other ingredients) and EcoSmart Organic, (which includes geraniol, rosemary oil, cinnamon oil, and lemongrass oil),” the Consumer Reports authors said.
“None lasted for more than 1 hour against Aedes mosquitoes, and some failed almost immediately. In addition, those products are not registered by the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates skin-applied repellents and evaluates them for safety and effectiveness. Most plant-oil products are exempt from scrutiny by the EPA because the agency considers them to be a minimum risk to human health.”
Women who are pregnant or breast feeding can safely use deet, picaridin, lemon eucalyptus, and IR3535, according to the EPA.
Other tips for using insect repellents safely and effectively:
• Apply repellents sparingly, and only to exposed skin or clothing.
• Don’t apply repellents over cuts, wounds, irritated skin, or after shaving.
• When applying to your face, spray first on your hands, then rub in, avoiding your eyes and mouth.
• Don’t let young children apply repellents themselves.
• Don’t use near food, and wash hands after application and before eating.
• At the end of the day, wash treated skin with soap and water, and wash treated clothing in a separate wash before wearing again.
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