You can lower your chance of being bitten by an insect or spider-like animal (arachnid) by using insect repellents. Mosquitoes, biting flies, and ticks can cause annoying bites and sometimes a serious disease. Mosquito bites can spread infections such as West Nile virus, a virus that causes swelling of the brain (encephalitis), Zika virus, and malaria in some parts of the world. Tick bites can cause serious diseases such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Bites from biting flies are painful and may cause a skin infection.
You can buy many different kinds of insect repellents. Some work better than others. DEET provides the longest-lasting protection against mosquito bites.footnote 3
If you have a question or concern about the use of insect repellents, or if you are pregnant or nursing, talk with a travel health professional.
DEET (N,N-diethyl-3-meta-toluamide) is the most effective insect repellent.
Using icaridin on children:
Permethrin is not available as an insect repellent in Canada, but it is used in other parts of the world to prevent insect bites. It is a plant-based insecticide that works on contact. You spray it on clothing and other fabrics, such as mosquito netting and tent walls. Permethrin should not be applied directly to the skin. When it is combined with DEET, permethrin provides even better protection against mosquitoes. Permethrin keeps working even after you wash your clothes.
P-menthane-3,8-diol. This insect repellent is commonly known as lemon eucalyptus oil. When oil of lemon eucalyptus was tested against mosquitoes found in the U.S., it provided protection similar to repellents with low concentrations of DEET. It provides up to 2 hours of protection against mosquito bites. Do not apply more than 2 times a day. And do not use this product on children younger than 3 years.
Soybean oil. Insect repellents that contain 2% soybean oil provide 1 to 4 hours of protection from mosquitoes when applied to the skin. Soybean oil is safe to use on infants and children.
IR3535. This repellent is a chemical similar to the amino acid alanine. Tests have shown that it can protect against mosquito bites for up to 1 hour.footnote 3
Citronella is a lemon-scented oil, derived from a plant, that repels mosquitoes. It is not as effective or as long-lasting as DEET. The product can be reapplied frequently to increase its effectiveness. Citronella can be found in lotions or in candles for outdoor use. Citronella applied to the skin provides 15 to 20 minutes of protection from mosquitoes. There is no scientific evidence that citronella candles are effective.
Other plant oils. Other plant oils, such as lavender and geranium, provide less than 30 minutes of protection against mosquitoes. These products aren't recommended.
There are other products advertised as mosquito repellents that don't effectively prevent mosquito bites. These include:
Read and follow all instructions on the label. Health Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend the following precautions for using insect repellents:
Committee to Advise on Tropical Medicine and Travel (2012). Statement on personal protective measures to prevent arthropod bites. Canada Communicable Disease Report, 38: 1–18. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/ccdr-rmtc/12vol38/acs-dcc-3/index-eng.php. Accessed May 21, 2016.
Canadian Paediatric Society (2008). West Nile virus: What parents should know. Available online: http://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/west_nile_virus.
Fradin MS, Day JF (2002). Comparative efficacy of insect repellents against mosquito bites. New England Journal of Medicine, 347(1): 13–18.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerW. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious DiseaseLeslie Tengelsen, PhD, DVM -
Current as ofMarch 28, 2017
Current as of: March 28, 2017
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
& Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & W. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease & Leslie Tengelsen, PhD, DVM -
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