Insect Repellents

Jun 24, 2020

By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

"We don't need no education. We don't need no thought control." Before smart phones, DVD's and the World Wide Web, my class was surveyed for our choice of Grad Song. I picked Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2." The lyrics had "education" in them, but shockingly my song wasn't chosen. I was thinking of Pink Floyd again recently. In their song "Vera", they asked, "Does anyone here remember Vera Lynn? Remember how she said that we would meet again, some sunny day?" Dame Vera Lynn passed away last week at age 103. Back in 1940, London England was being heavily bombed by the Nazi's in what is now known as the London Blitz. During the height of the Blitz, Vera Lynn would head off to an underground BBC studio to sing on a 15 minute radio show called Starlight. It was broadcast around the world to soldiers at 2:30 am. Vera sang songs like The White Cliffs of Dover and We'll Meet Again that connected emotionally with people who were separated from their loved ones. Vera Lynn became the "Forces' Sweetheart".

You know who you don't want to be your sweetheart? 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.

Would you know to duck the droning little vampires? Just like corona virus, 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. It has a low chance of side effects. However, it is greasy, smelly and will eat plastic objects and clothing.

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 8 hours, DEET 20% for ~6 hours, and DEET 10% protects for about 4.5 hours.

There is a newer 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 as many icaridin products in Canada yet. The icaridin product line we carry in the pharmacy is called Piactive.

Icaridin has recommended percentages too. Twenty percent icaridin protects for up to eight hours against ticks and black flies, and for up to seven hours against mosquitoes. The 20% icaridin is recommended for people 12 years of age and up. Ten percent icaridin protects for up to five hours against mosquitoes, and for up to seven hours against ticks. The 10% is recommended for kids 6 months up to 12 years old.

Vera Lynn's most famous song, "We'll Meet Again" is a great pick for a Grad of 2020 song. I know that no Grads care what I think, but hear me out. Like WW2, 2020 has been a trying and difficult. Many grads are separated from their loved ones because of social distancing and travel restrictions. In April, during the height of the pandemic, the Queen used some of Vera's lyrics to bolster her nation's spirits by saying "We will be with our friends again, we will be with our families again, we will meet again." In early May, 103 year old Dame Vera Lynn was part of a virtual concert. She sang a duet of "We'll Meet Again" to celebrate 75 years since the Allies declared victory over the Nazi's in Europe. Dame Vera Lynn was then and now a symbol of resilience and hope. And what do our Grads of 2020 need more than resilience and hope! I dedicate "We'll Meet Again" to all the Grads of 2020! Even if I maybe, still, kinda prefer "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2".

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.

For more information visit:

Health Canada's Insect Repellant Page:

Canadian Pediatric Society - Preventing insect and tick bites


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