[In The Field] Mosquito Repellent Help

Features - Mosquitoes

Gone are the days of slathering smelly bear grease on your body to ward off the hungry hoardes. Here are two sites to help you make the right repellent choice.

September 24, 2010
Mike Merchant

Editor’s note: The following article appeared on Mike Merchant’s blog, "Insects in the City," which can be found online at http://insectsinthecity.blogspot.com. The blog offers readers news and commentary about the urban pest management industry and is excerpted here with permission of the author.


Pest management professionals are exposed to all sorts of health risks, including many of the same pests that afflict their customers. Mosquitoes and ticks are among the worst offenders and we all can potentially be affected by West Nile virus and other mosquito- and tick-borne diseases.

A good mosquito repellent is an essential tool for the PMP. Mosquito repellents are without question one of the marvels of technology. Gone are the days of slathering smelly bear grease on your body to ward off the hungry hoardes. Using modern technology, a quick spray or small dab of cream can effectively protect you from the bites of mosquitoes, ticks and biting flies for hours.

It’s both a blessing and a curse that there are literally hundreds of repellent products on the market. Choosing the best repellent can be confusing. For many years the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) and most entomologists recommended DEET as the most reliable repellent for most pests. I still recommend DEET for most professionals heading out for a day’s work, because one application of the right product can provide day-long protection. But some of us don’t care for the smell of many DEET formulations, and others report sensitivity to DEET. Fortunately, in the past few years researchers have found acceptable alternatives. Many of these products provide equal protection, although DEET appears to still be tops for length of protection.

The Right Choice. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Pesticide Information Center both recently posted a handy online tool to help you choose an insect repellent (http://cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/insect/ and http://npic.orst.edu/repel, respectively). The core of the calculator is a database that cross-references registered repellents against their expected hourly protection times against ticks and mosquitoes. Simply enter the pest you are concerned about, how long you need protection for, and (if you have one in mind) the active ingredient you are interested in. It then produces a downloadable list of commercial repellents that meet your needs.

The calculator is relatively simple and, unfortunately, does not cover biting flies other than mosquitoes. I was also a little disappointed that it doesn’t give a reliability rating or provide references to the research on which the data is based. (OK, I’m a skeptical scientist…you may not feel the need for this.) What you will find if you use the calculator is that there are a number of acceptable alternatives to DEET — especially if you don’t need 10 hours of protection.

So next time you head out for accounts with mosquito activity, don’t forget the repellent. And be thankful for the many alternatives to bear grease.

The author is a Texas AgriLife Extension entomologist. E-mail him at mmerchant@giemedia.com.