Question: Many insect repellents on the market say on the label "Contains no DEET" as if there was something dangerous about DEET, whatever that is. Now, the brochure being circulated by the Department of Health concerning the dengue fever situation advises using an insect repellent with DEET. What's the scoop with DEET?
State says DEET
safe but warns users
to read label
Answer: DEET is the common name for the chemical n,n-diethyl-m-toluamide, and the risk of "serious adverse effects" is said to be "extremely low" when used as recommended, according to health experts.
We got the scoop on DEET from the state Department of Health's Web site related to the dengue fever outbreak -- www.hawaii.gov/doh/dengue -- and from various other health sources, including the American Academy of Pediatrics.
When we noted that the DOH Web site did not specify potential dangers from using DEET, spokeswoman Janice Okubo said the posted information is in line with information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
However, she said the DOH information "is not intended to be a guide for use. We'd rather refer people to the label of the particular product on how to use it."
Based on "Kokua Line's" inquiry, the DOH has added the warning, "Always carefully read and follow product label instructions and precautions" to the section on how repellents should be applied, Okubo said.
DEET was developed as an insect repellent by the U.S. Army in 1946. Because it was one of the few products effective against mosquitos and biting flies, it was registered for public use in 1957. "Despite more than 40 years of testing more than 20,000 other compounds since then, DEET remains the most effective repellent currently available," the DOH says.
There is no set level of DEET found to be the most effective, it says, with products ranging from 5 percent to 100 percent DEET to meet different needs.
However, "as a general rule, higher concentrations of DEET will offer longer-lasting protection, but this effect tends to level out at concentrations of over 50 percent."
The DOH says 10 percent to 35 percent DEET will provide good protection.
It cited a 1998 EPA survey that found no evidence that DEET posed greater risks to children. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children not use bug repellents containing more than 30 percent DEET. Although other sources say the AAP recommends no more than 10 percent DEET, Okubo said the academy currently believes up to 30 percent DEET would be safe. She cited the 25th edition of Red Book 2000, otherwise known as the American Academy of Pediatrics Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases, as the source for that recommendation.
Although other sources also say DEET has a safe record, they do warn that in high doses, DEET can cause a toxic reaction.
There have been a few cases of neurological problems in young children exposed to high doses of DEET.
Also, users are warned that DEET can damage plastics, synthetic fabrics, leather and painted surfaces and so should be applied carefully.
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