I literally spent an hour reading EWG’s Guide to Better Bug Repellents. The report was a wake up call for me. Sure, I know certain mosquitoes and ticks bites can be dangerous. However, I learned my botanical bug sprays may not keep me safe from bugs that cause West Nile virus and Lyme disease.
Lyme Disease is nothing to Sneeze About
Just this year, I had a dog tick stuck to my arm. Luckily, this tick is harmless. And no, I wasn’t hiking in tall grass or the woods. I was simply weeding my front bed. Deers aren’t the only animal carriers. Small rodents can carry ticks too.
This isn’t my first brush with ticks. I had Lyme Disease complete with big bulls eye rash a couple of years ago. Trust me, again, I wasn’t hiking or wading through underbrush.
Generally, Lyme disease is contracted in the Northeast from Maine to Maryland, Minnesota and Wisconsin and in Oregon and North California. However, it has been reported throughout the United States and the world. In essence, Lyme disease may be contracted anywhere.
If Lyme disease is not caught early, the disease can cause heart issues such as inflammation, abnormal heart rhythms, and heart failure, facial muscle paralysis, and arthritis or inflammation of the joints.
West Nile Virus
West Nile virus is commonly spread by infected mosquitoes. Cases have been reported throughout the world. However, 1 out of 5 people who are infected will develop a fever or other symptoms like body aches. Although most people recover, fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months.
One percent of infected people will contract encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord).
Asian Tiger Mosquito
The Asian Mosquito strikes during the day. Infected mosquitoes can host about 20 different diseases such as West Nile.
Other mosquitoes will bite other species. This particular mosquito likes humans and will seek them out. Aren’t we lucky?
First Course of Action Prior to Using Repellent.
1. Don’t leave standing water around your house, which could breed mosquitoes. Pittsburgh County officials provide the following safeguards:
- “Get rid of items that hold water such as tires, buckets, flower pots, junk piles and cans.
- Clean out roof gutters and storm drains.
- Change the water in birdbaths once or twice a week.
- Empty and turn over plastic wading pools when not in use.
- Drain water from plastic coverings on swimming pools and outdoor furniture.
- Properly filter/chlorinate backyard swimming pools and dismantle those not in use.
- Fill in depressions on your lawn to prevent accumulation of water.
- Repair leaky outdoor faucets that can create a pool of stagnant water.”
EWG recommends the following precautions:
- Wear light colored clothing.
- In bug country wear long sleeves, a collared shirt and bandannas. When walking through tall grass, tuck your cuffs into your pant legs. This helps to keep ticks and chiggers off your body.
- Use nets or fans while eating outdoors.
- Use nets over strollers and baby carriers.
- Send your kids to camp with mosquito netting for their bunks.
And most importantly, do tick checks every night. The CDC states:
“Nymphs are tiny (less than 2 mm) and difficult to see; they feed during the spring and summer months. Adult ticks can also transmit Lyme disease bacteria, but they are much larger and may be more likely to be discovered and removed before they have had time to transmit the bacteria. Adult Ixodes ticks are most active during the cooler months of the year.”
Second Course of Action:
The second course of action is bug repellent.
According to the EWG Bug Repellent Guide,
“Tests have found that these four registered and approved repellent chemicals offer a high level of protection from a variety of biting insects and ticks and have good safety profiles:
• Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus and its synthetic derivative PMD”
Did you see the word, “DEET,” above? Seriously, DEET? How many times have we heard that DEET is bad for us? I was dumbfounded. The report states,
“DEET isn’t a perfect choice nor the only choice. But weighed against the consequences of Lyme disease and West Nile virus, we believe it is a reasonable one.”
Explanation Interview with David Andrews of the EWG
Dr. David Andrews, Senior Scientist at EWG and one of the researchers associated with the Guide, sat down with Karen Lee and I during our weekly Green Sisterhood Tuesday Talk webinar series. I urge you to listen to his interview above. He explains the findings behind the guide. Moreover, he explains the different concentration levels of the above chemicals for particular outdoor activities. The Guide didn’t suggest high levels of the above synthetic ingredients.
See the chart below.
He explained during the interview:
1. Use certain products with the lowest effective concentrations. See EWG’s tip sheet for the percentages of bug repellent ingredients recommended for certain outdoor activities. Pay careful attention to the type of repellent used on children under the age of 3. Some of the products listed in the Guide includes Cutters, Buzz Off, and Coleman Smart Skin. (See page 5 of the Guide for a list of products and their active ingredient.)
2. Apply bug repellent to your child by placing it in your hands and then rubbing it on their body. Do not apply repellent to their hands since they can put their hands in their mouth. Be careful when applying bug repellent around mouths and eyes.
3. Do not use repellents with sunscreens since they need to be reapplied more frequently. This reapplication can increase the exposure of the bug repellents.
What about Botanicals?
For years, I have used botanical bug repellents to lessen my chemical exposure. However, the Guide indicated that there is no data supporting that botanical repellents keep you safe from bugs that can transmit diseases.
The Guide indicates:
“[p]roducts based on botanical extracts may be worth trying if bug-borne diseases are not known to be a problem where you are going. But many of these products contain allergens in highly concentrated forms. Effectiveness varies widely. The Environmental Protection Agency does not require registration and testing of these botanicals for effectiveness or safety, so there is not much data to confirm or contradict their advertising claims. Consumers have no assurance that the product actually works. That is why the only botanically-derived ingredient the CDC recommends is Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus/PMD, which has been registered with the EPA and undergone efficacy testing.”
I can just imagine how you are feeling reading this article. I also thought the above synthetic ingredients were toxic. But, Andrews explained, it is like picking your poison: Lyme Disease versus a low concentration of DEET or other chemicals listed above.
Join the Conversation:
- What are you thoughts about EWG’s Guide?
- Has the Guide changed the way you look at bug repellents?
P.S. The bugs are still out there in droves given the amount of rain we have had. So be safe.