Staying Safe: Bug Juices

Family Vacations, Summer 1996

Staying Safe: Bug Juices

Bugs like water--so expect some close encounters with this less-than-appealing slice of wildlife. Insect repellent is essential, of course, but it's not without controversy. The consensus in wilderness medical circles is that the first line of defense is to spray clothes and netting with Permethrin, a safe and effective insecticide derived from the chrysanthemum plant. But bugs can bite before they're killed by insecticides: Your family will also need repellent to keep bugs at bay.

Deet is the most effective--though, to many parents, the most repelling--concoction. It's toxic, having caused seizures in children when overapplied at full strength. Dr. Eric A. Weiss, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Stanford University's Medical Center and board member of the Wilderness Medical Society, thinks deet may suffer a bad rap. "Extrapolations from the severest cases are used to make generalizations about the product that aren't justified," Weiss says, adding that there's virtually no risk when a concentration of 17 to 20 percent deet is applied a few times a day. This will repel biting insects and, to a lesser extent, ticks (which transmit such diseases as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease). Cautious parents will want to apply deet products over sunscreen to minimize absorption into the skin and maximize the repellent's bug-shooing effects.

However, Buck Tilton, director of the Wilderness Medicine Institute, isn't prepared to endorse deet so heartily. "Deet is absorbed into the skin, and not all of that is discharged in the urine," he says. "It's stored in the body somewhere and it's too early to tell what that might mean." Nontoxic products, like Avon's Skin-So-Soft and those that contain citronella, are about 10 to 15 percent as effective as deet: They repel insects by coating the skin; once absorbed, their repelling abilities are lost, so reapply them every 30 minutes.

Copyright 1996, Outside magazine

More Fitness