Mosquitoes are not only a nuisance—they can also spread West Nile virus. For many people, the solution is to reach for a DEET-based repellent before venturing outdoors. DEET has been around for more than 50 years, and the EPA says this chemical is safe if “used as directed.” But is it really safe?
A 2001 review of 17 cases of suspected DEET toxicity in children concluded that, “Repellents containing DEET are not safe when applied to children’s skin and should be avoided in children. Additionally, since the potential toxicity of DEET is high, less toxic preparations should probably be substituted for DEET-containing repellents, whenever possible.” In 2009, a French study reported that, “Excessive doses of DEET could be toxic to humans and could cause severe seizures and lethality when combined with other active ingredients, such as pesticides.” The French researchers (read their full report at biomedcentral.com/1741-7007/7/47) studied DEET’s effects on insect, mouse and human proteins and showed that the chemical disrupted the action of acetylcholinesterase, a key enzyme in the central nervous systems of insects and mammals—including humans.
If the thought of slathering on a neurotoxin scares you, explore some natural solutions to deterring mosquitoes in the article "Grow Safe, Natural Mosquito Repellents."
West Nile Virus Stats
In 2012, there were 5,387 reported cases of West Nile virus in the United States and 243 deaths from the virus. A third of all cases reported were in Texas.