Don’t Fear DEET-Based Insect Repellents

With the Zika virus now reportedly being transmitted by mosquitos here in the United States, consumers—expecting moms, kids, and everyone else—should be sure to use insect repellents when they go outside. Arguably, the best products on the market contain the pesticide DEET, but some people may be afraid to use it because it had been linked to seizures in children. This is unfortunate because not only are the claims about DEET wrongheaded, the many diseases it prevents are far more serious.

In fact, there are no documented cases of anyone dying or suffering serious long-term health effects from the proper use of DEET. There have been concerns that excessive application of DEET on children caused seizures, but these claims were based on a handful of inconclusive cases.


Researchers published a review of these cases in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. They could only find ten case reports of children suffering from seizures possibly related to DEET, and none were conclusive. Given that 3 to 5 percent of children suffer from such seizures for a variety of reasons and that 23 to 29 percent of children are exposed to DEET, it is possible that the cases were incorrectly attributed to DEET. “Nonetheless, these case reports have been widely quoted and have led regulatory agencies and pediatric societies to limit use of DEET in young children,” the researchers note.


In contrast, the insect-borne diseases that DEET applications can prevent levy a heavy toll on public health. For example, the Centers for Disease Control report that last year alone there were 2,060 reported West Nile virus cases, 119 deaths, and 1,360 cases of neuro-invasive illnesses that can have long-term debilitating effects. In 2014, there were more than 25,000 cases of Lyme disease, which CDC says is “the most commonly reported vectorborne illness in the United States.” And now we must also be concerned about Zika and the birth defects it may produce.

To learn more about this topic via my article on the Huffington Post.