Keep bugs off without DEET

New bug repellents, the dangers of plastic and the smoking-asthma link


Heather Cunningham


Health news roundup For the first time in decades, parents have an alternative to insect repellents with DEET. In late April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the use of two new ingredients—picaridin and the plant-based oil of lemon eucalyptus—as effective repellents against the bothersome, and potentially dangerous, bite of mosquitoes and other insects.

That’s important because it gives parents a choice. And that may mean more people will use insect repellent to protect their kids against itchy discomfort and the spread of disease.

“It’s nice to have choices,” says Dr. William Paul, a deputy commissioner with the Chicago Department of Public Health. “Some people just don’t like [DEET].”

DEET is the common name for N, N-diethyl- m-toluamide, the active ingredient in the most widely used insect repellents. Some people don’t like it because they worry it is toxic, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said DEET insect repellents are safe when used for short periods according to package directions. And not using insect repellents increases the chances of contracting serious diseases, such as the tick-borne Lyme disease.

Still, researchers say, 60 percent of Americans do not regularly use insect repellent.

Picaridin, currently available in the United States in Cutter Advance repellent, has been used for years in Europe, Asia, Australia and South America. Studies have found that solutions containing oil of lemon eucalyptus, found in lotions and sprays, are as effective as low-level DEET products in warding off insects but at the same time, the CDC also says you can continue to use DEET products if you prefer.

Experts recommend parents apply insect repellent on their kids and themselves whenever they go outdoors during warm-weather months, especially between dusk and dawn.

Whatever insect repellent you use, Paul says it’s important to pay attention to the label and use the product as directed to keep kids safe.

How safe is that baby bottle?

If you drop a plastic baby bottle, it bounces. It doesn’t break because it’s shatter resistant, thanks to Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in the polycarbonate plastic that lines water bottles, baby bottles and other food and drink containers.

But according to some researchers, the chemical can seep through those containers into the food or drink inside. And ingesting the chemical can increase some health risks.

Heating, repeatedly washing and keeping acidic or basic food in the containers can cause the chemical to leach into the containers, the scientists say.

Testing of rodents exposed to low levels of the chemical found it decreased testosterone, enlarged the prostate and lowered sperm count in males. It caused early puberty and disrupted hormonal cycles in females. Other reported side effects include immune and enzyme dysfunction, hyperactivity and neurological abnormalities, say study authors Frederick S. vom Saal, a professor in the biological sciences division at the University of Missouri-Columbia; and Claude Hughes, from the department of medical and scientific services at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. 

A study published in the April 13 online issue of Environmental Health Perspectives urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reanalyze the chemical and change the amount allowed in plastic products. 

Plastics industry representatives insist the trace amounts of the chemical that leach from the plastic pose no danger, and have no plans to remove the chemicals from children’s products.

Smoking and grandkids’ asthma

If you smoke during pregnancy, your kids are more likely to develop asthma. And so are your grandkids, according to a recent study by scientists at the University of Southern California.

More than 900 kids were surveyed. Those whose grandmothers smoked during pregnancy were twice as likely as their peers to have asthma—even if their mothers did not smoke. If both the mother and grandmother smoked during pregnancy, the risk was even greater. 

“The findings suggest that smoking could have a longer-lasting impact on families’ health than we had ever realized,” says  Frank Gilliland, survey leader and University of Southern California professor.  

Heather Cunningham is an award-winning writer living in Batavia who writes frequently on parenting and health issues.


When using any kind of insect repellent— especially on kids—it’s important to follow these tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: . Do not use oil of lemon eucalyptus on kids under 3. . Do not use DEET on kids under 2 months. n Read and follow all directions on the bottle. . Use sparingly—just enough to cover exposed skin and clothing. . Don’t let kids put repellent on themselves—use your hands to apply it. . Don’t use on broken or irritated skin, or on the eyes and mouth. Be careful around the ears. . Don’t apply to young kids’ hands—they often put them in their mouth. . After you go back inside, wash exposed skin with soap and water. . If anyone gets a rash, wash off the repellent and call a local poison center or go to the doctor. Lorien Menhennett


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