Insect repellents are important tools for prevention of insect-born diseases as well as painful or uncomfortable insect bites. The 2 most effective and widely used products are N, N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide (deet), which is applied to exposed skin, and permethrin,which is applied to clothes. Both are safe when used according to directions. Other repellents, including a variety of plant-derived products, have also been used butgenerally have a weaker or shorter-lived repellent effect.
Insect repellents are important public health tools for the prevention of vector-borneinfectious diseases. Technically, an insect repellent is any chemical -- natural or synthetic --that causes insects or other arthropods to make directed, oriented movements away fromthe source of repellent. Chemical substances that have repellent effects enable us to go places and do things in insect and disease-infested areas while avoiding diseasetransmission by arthropods.Repellents have prevented countless cases of malaria, dengue fever, encephalitis, and other mosquito-borne diseases. However, in recent years, concerns about the potential adversehealth effects of insect repellents have increased, especially for those containing N, N-diethyl-3-methyl benzamide, also known as deet. This is the most effective and widely usedinsect repellent available. It repels a variety of mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks , fleas, and biting flies, and an estimated 50 to 100 million people in the United States use it eachyear.There have been a few reports of systemic reactions from repeated cutaneous exposure todeet. For example, in 6 girls ranging in age from 17 months to 8 years, behavioralchanges, ataxia, encephalopathy, seizures, and/or coma developed after repeated cutaneousexposure to deet; 3 subsequently died. In addition, episodes of confusion, irritability, andinsomnia have been reported by Everglades National Park employees following repeatedand prolonged use of deet.
However, a few reports of adverse reactions to deet shouldnot be misconstrued to mean that repellents are dangerous and are not to be used. Allcommercially available repellents are generally safe when used according to their labelinstructions. This short review discusses various chemical repellents, their modes of action, possible side effects, and precautions necessary to prevent adverse reactions.