When repelling bugs, the options are growing. But the best option remains DEET if you don't want to get bitten.

DEET is still the gold standard for insect repellents, but the old standby now has some company.

Linn Haramis, an entomologist with the Illinois Department of Public Health, says three active ingredients have been scientifically reviewed, and have been certified effective in repelling mosquitoes by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“DEET (or Diethyl-m-toluamide) has the longest track record in terms of use, and the most availability in the number of formulations and products,” Haramis says.

With the arrival of West Nile virus a few years back, mosquito bites suddenly had the potential to be more than an itchy annoyance.

“You are relying on (insect repellents) to protect you from injury and disease transmission,” Haramis says. “In science, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and (scientific evaluation) provides the proof that it works.”

Besides DEET, Picaridin (also known as KBR 3023) and synthesized oil of lemon eucalyptus (PMD) have passed scientific muster.

Another ingredient, IR3535, has been proved effective, too, but it is not widely available.

Jim Dillow of Virginia is often outdoors running fishing events for kids and families through his organization FishinPals.

Dillow says he has used a variety of repellents, and is trying formulas that substitute a variety of plant oils for DEET.

One of the knocks against DEET is its smell and oily feel.

“The only thing is you smell like Lemon Pledge,” Dillow says with a laugh.

Picking a repellent

Haramis says lots of chemicals, both natural and synthetic, will repel insects. Trouble is, many don’t last very long.

Citronella candles, for example, typically are effective for a short time — often less than one hour, he says.

“There is an extensive process to evaluate these products to see if they do work,” Haramis says. “Bug zappers, if you read the literature very carefully, don’t say they will prevent mosquitoes from biting you. They say they kill thousands of insects, including mosquitoes.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, products with varying percentages of DEET provided from one to five hours of protection.

Products with 4.7 percent DEET lasted about one hour, while products with 23.8 percent DEET were good up to five hours.

Haramis says DEET is safe when properly applied, and there is little benefit to upping the percentage. Formulas with 20percent to 30 percent DEET were just as effective as 100 percent DEET, he says.

“DEET has been used millions of times on millions of people,” he says. “I’ve used it on my own children, but you have to follow the directions.”

Don’t let small children apply repellents, he says.

Haramis says people who are outdoors during the evening hours should use repellents.

“Use insect repellent when you are outside in the evening roughly from 7 p.m. on when the house mosquitoes are active,” he says. “That will help make you more comfortable and help avoid any problems with disease.”

Chris Young can be reached at 217-788-1528.

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Insect Repellent Q & A