Vector-borne diseases are infections transmitted by insects and animals that harbor parasites, viruses, or bacteria. Common vector-borne diseases include yellow fever and malaria, but there are many others in every country in the world.
The risk for malaria and other mosquito-born infections is highest when mosquitoes feed, between dusk and dawn.
DEET. Most insect repellents contain the chemical DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide), which remains the gold standard of currently available mosquito and tick repellents. DEET has been used for more than 40 years and is safe for most children when used as directed. Comparison studies suggest that DEET preparations are the most effective insect repellents now available.
DEET concentrations range from 4 - 100%. The concentration determines the duration of protection. Experts recommend that most adults and children over 12 years old use preparations containing a DEET concentration of 20 - 35% (such as Ultrathon), which provides complete protection for an average of 5 hours. (Higher DEET concentrations may be necessary for adults who are in high-risk regions for prolonged periods.)
DEET products should never be used on infants younger than 2 months. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), DEET products can safely be used on all children age 2 months and older. The EPA recommends that parents check insect repellant product labels for age restrictions. If there is no age restriction listed, the product is safe for any age. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children use 30% DEET concentration. In deciding what level of concentration is most appropriate, parents should consider the amount of time that children will be spending outside, and the risk of mosquito bites and mosquito-borne disease.
When applying DEET, the following precautions should be taken:
- Apply only enough to cover exposed skin.
- Do not apply too much and do not use under clothing.
- Do not apply over any cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
- Parents or an adult should apply repellent to a child instead of letting the child apply it. They should first put DEET on their own hands and then apply it to the child. They should avoid putting DEET near the child's eyes and mouth, and also on the hands (since children frequently touch their faces).
- Wash any treated skin after going back inside.
- If using a spray, apply DEET outdoors -- never indoors.
- Do not apply spray repellents directly on anyone's face. Spray your hands and use them to apply DEET to your face.
Other Insect Repellent Products. In 2005, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) added two new mosquito repellents to its list of recommended products: Picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus. Picaridin, also known as KBR 3023 or Bayrepel, is an ingredient that has been used for many years in repellents sold in Europe, Latin America, and Asia. A product containing 7% picaridin is now available in the United States. Picaridin can safely be applied to young children and is also safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. According to the CDC, insect repellents containing DEET or picaridin work better than other products. In scientific tests, oil of lemon eucalyptus, also known as PMD, worked as well as low concentrations of DEET. However, oil of lemon eucalyptus is not recommended for children under the age of 3 years.
Use of Permethrin. Permethrin is an insect repellent used as a spray for clothing and bed nets, which can repel insects for weeks when applied correctly. Electric vaporizing mats containing permethrin may be very helpful. A permethrin solution is also available for soaking items, but it should never be applied to the skin. Side effects from direct exposure may include mild burning, stinging, itching, and rash, but in general, permethrin is very safe and its use may even reduce child mortality rates from malaria. Travelers allergic to chrysanthemum flowers or who are allergic to head-lice scabicides should avoid using permethrin.
Review Date: 01/30/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.