Insect Repellent

Jun 16, 2015

By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

Dad, can I get a bubble? I was confused by this question from my son Eric. I asked him what he meant. You know, like a hamster bubble that hamsters run around in. Suddenly it was making more sense. A week earlier, Eric had fallen off his bike when he had just about reached Barker School. Despite skinning his elbow pretty good, he decided to complete his shift as a patrol helping kids safely cross the street. After his patrol shift, Eric got patched up and I got a phone call from the school bus. Eric and his mom were on their way to Clear Lake for a class field trip. Doris was calling to get me to bring gauze pads and tape home. The next week, Eric made it through his soccer game unscathed, but he tripped and fell in the gravel parking lot. Guess which body part hit the ground first. Yep, he skinned the same elbow. I could understand Eric's desire for a protective bubble.

Sometimes in Dauphin, we all wish for a bubble. Summer heat and sunshine has arrived! Dauphin has its BBQs out and its tank tops on! Unfortunately, standing water and warmth is just what our favorite little vampires were waiting for too. If you go outside, Manitobas unofficial bird, the mosquito, is going to get you. Who hasn't wished for an anti-blood sucker bubble on a warm summer evening?

What should you know to duck the droning flying phlebotomists we love to hate? 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. Make sure the screens on your doors and windows dont have rips or tears. When possible wear long sleeved pants and shirts. Remove standing water from your property. That includes emptying childrens wading pools, cleaning your eaves troughs, regularly emptying bird baths, and ensuring rain barrels are covered with a mosquito screen.

People often ask me 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 doesnt 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.

Maybe we don't all need bubbles to enjoy the outdoors this summer. A little common sense and bug spray and we'll probably be fine. Eric's elbow road rash is healing. He is still playing soccer, lacrosse and riding his bike. He is no longer asking to be put into a bubble. However, maybe Eric was onto something. At an organization in Winnipeg called River City Bubble Ball, they put an inflatable bubble over your upper body and then send you into a field to play soccer. The video is hilarious with people bouncing off each other and the ground. Maybe bubbles really are the next generation protection versus mosquitoes and skinned elbows.

For more information visit:

Health Canadas Insect Repellant Page:

River City Bubble Ball 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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Whenever you talk about mosquitoes, someone asks about West Nile Virus. West Nile Virus was first identified in Africa in 1937. It spread to Europe and it was first reported in North America in New York City in 1999. Since then it has spread to most parts of the US and Canada. The first known human case of West Nile Virus (WNV) in Manitoba was in July of 2003. West Nile Virus is carried by mosquitoes. That means that the mosquito bites an infected animal (often a bird), picks up WNV and then bites the human and gives them WNV. The number of human cases of WNV varies year to year. According to Manitoba Health the number went from 143 in 2003 up to 587 in 2007 and down to 12 in 2008.

What are the symptoms of WNV? Most people who become infected with the virus do not become ill, and so wont report an illness to their doctor. This is the most common outcome. The other two outcomes are West Nile Fever and West Nile Neurological Syndrome. West Nile Fever has flu like symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue and body aches. West Nile Fever is usually considered mild and resolves on its own. West Nile Neurological Syndrome is much more rare and is more serious. The neurological syndrome can include encephalitis, an inflammation of the lining of the brain. Encephalitis can have serious complications including paralysis, confusion, coma or death. Anyone experiencing symptoms like persistent high fever, muscle weakness and headache should seek medical attention.


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