Insect Repellants

Jun 27, 2016

By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

In January, I have velcro butt. I like Monday Nite Rec Hockey. I really do. But when it is dark and cold out, it seems to be a huge effort to tear my self off the couch and head down to the rink after I get the kids to bed. This time of year is different . Last night we left work, drove an hour to Lake of the Prairies, fished for three hours, drove an hour home and it was just starting to get dark. I know my parents and others go to Texas in the winter, and who can blame them. But why aren't people from Texas and Arizona flocking up to the Parkland for June and July? The weather and sunshine here is amazing!

The one detail we should leave out of the Parkland travel brochures that we send to Houston are everyone's favorite flying phlebotomists. Summer heat and standing water is just what the mosquitoes were waiting for. If you go outside, Manitoba's unofficial bird is going to get you.

What should you know to duck the droning little vampires? Avoidance and physical barriers are the first line of defense. Try to reduce the amount of time you spend outdoors around sunset and sunrise. These are the peak hours for mosquito activity. Fortunately, right now that is 5:30 am and 10:30 pm. Make sure the screens on your doors and windows don't have rips or tears. When possible wear long sleeved pants and shirts. Remove standing water from your property. That includes emptying children's wading pools, cleaning your eaves troughs, regularly emptying bird baths, and ensuring rain barrels are covered with a mosquito screen.

At the pharmacy, people often ask if it is safe to use a bug spray with DEET in it or if they should use something more natural, like citronella. My usual answer is that DEET has been shown to keep mosquitoes away from people and citronella doesn't have the evidence. Other alternative insect repellants like insecticide coils, ultrasonic devices, wrist bands and oral vitamin B1, don't have evidence for a good risk benefit ratio either. My wife loves the burning insecticide coil, and I don't think I'll ever be able to convince her they aren't awesome. So for you do-do coil fans, burn them outside in a well ventilated area. Remember insecticide means poison.

I like DEET as an insect repellant. DEET has been used for years and it works to keep mosquitoes away. I has a low chance of side effects. However, it is greasy, smelly and will eat plastic objects and clothing. There is a new ingredient available in Canada. It is called icaridin. In the US it goes by the name picaridin. It is less greasy and smelly than DEET and is supposed to last longer at low concentrations than DEET. Several international bodies recommend it as a DEET alternative. However, there aren't many icaridin products in Canada yet. In fact, I couldn't find any icaridin products that I was able to order from our pharmacy suppliers. But if you want to do your own detective work, look for products that say they are dry and non-greasy, and then look for icardin in the active ingredients.

How do you use DEET safely? First remember that DEET is NOT recommended for children under 6 months of age. Physical barriers like screens are recommended. You can use 1 spray per day of 10 % or less DEET on children aged 6 months to 2 years of age if it is absolutely necessary. You can use DEET of 10% or less on children aged 2 to 12 years not more than 3 times per day. Over the age of 12 you can use DEET up to 30%.

What do the different percentages mean? The higher the percentage the more DEET could get absorbed through the skin, but the more mosquito repelling power the bug spray has. Here is what Health Canada says: repellents with concentration of DEET of 30% will protect you from mosquitoes for approximately 6 hours, DEET 15% for ~5 hours, DEET 10% for ~3 hours, and DEET 5% for ~2 hours.

It is summer in the Parkland! It is short but beautiful. Enjoy golfing at 9:30 at night. Marvel that if you want those leeches you bought from Sticky to get into the water before sunrise, you willnhave to leave the house at 4 am. Go for bike ride and stop for ice cream at Coffee Creations. Maybe its good that those folks from Arizona can't place us on the map, let alone know what the weather is like here in the summer. If they did, the Parkland might get really crowded.

For more information visit:

Health Canada's Insect Repellant Page:

Canadian Pediatric Society - Preventing insect and tick bites

As always if you have any questions or concerns about these or other products, ask your pharmacist.

The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.

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