A Primer On Mosquito Repellents

Robert Siegel talks to Michael Raupp, an entomology professor at the University of Maryland, about the different types of mosquito repellents on the market, and which ones work best.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Some guidance now on coping with another seasonal peril: mosquitoes. Professor Michael Raupp is an entomologist at the University of Maryland. His website features the bug of the week. And this week, fittingly enough, it features mosquitoes. Professor Raupp, welcome to the program.

Mr. MICHAEL RAUPP: (Entomology Professor, University of Maryland): Well, thank you, Robert, it's delightful to be here today.

SIEGEL: And I want you to tell us, given your experience and your awareness of what's new and what's old on the market, best guidance on how to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes in this summertime season.

Mr. RAUPP: For exposed skin, there are a number of products on the market. The gold standard, of course, is a compound called DEET. This has been used since the second world wars. But some people would like an alternative to DEET.

A few years ago, the Centers for Disease Controls announced a new product called pecaridin. It's a non-DEET compound, but this will give us the same kind of protection for six to eight hours, as would DEET.

Some people would like a more organic approach, maybe botanically based compounds, and there are several good ones on the market. One is called oil of lemon eucalyptus. There is another one that's derived from wild tomato and a third product that combines soybean oil and geraniol.

For the three or four hours that you're going to be outdoors, these are going to work just as well as anything else, and they really give us a great diversity of options.

But one thing, whenever you use an insect repellent, please read the label. Always follow all precautionary statements on that label, and for goodness sake, always help children put on mosquito repellents. Don't leave them to their own devices on this.

SIEGEL: By the way, how much of the problem is not in our repellents but in ourselves? That is, are some of us just more attractive to mosquitoes than others?

Mr. RAUPP: Oh, no question. There are folks that are attractors and others that are not. This is nothing personal, Robert, but the human body will give off more than 100 different volatile odors, and we know it's that unique blend of compounds that will make one person highly attractive, another person not.

My wife is an attractor, I am not. So whenever I go outdoors at dusk, I always take my wife with me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Now, some members of our staff report some more exotic ways of dealing with mosquitoes: garlic spray?

Mr. RAUPP: Yeah, there's absolutely no scientific evidence that I could find that either garlic, onions or vitamins repel mosquitoes. I think when you eat garlic, you simply lose friends and have a hard time finding dates. So I'd suggest maybe you want to try a different option.

SIEGEL: It was not a member of our science unit who suggested that. Some other ways that people have for trying to repel mosquitoes, in my household, we burn things. We burn citronella candles. We burn little blue-colored coils of some stuff, I don't even know what it is. Does that work, burning things?

Mr. RAUPP: Well, we know that many biting flies are repelled by smoke. Many insects are repelled by smoke. And as you say, you can add certain repellents to these smoking coils. Or when we were kids, we lit punkies(ph) that we picked out of the swamp, and these would make us look cool. But they would also help us repel mosquitoes, and they do work to a certain extent.

One of the things I really like to do, when I have an outdoor picnic on a steamy summer evening, I'll set up a large, oscillating fan. I'll blow this across my patio deck, where my guests are seated, and this simply blows the mosquitoes away.

Mosquitoes are very delicate flyers. When the air speeds probably approach five or six miles per hour, they simply can't fly, and this provides a cooling breeze for your guests, but it also eliminates a lot of the blood that's going to be let out there at a picnic.

SIEGEL: Professor Raupp, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. RAUPP: It's been my pleasure.

SIEGEL: Michael Raupp, entomologist at the University of Maryland and blogger, author of the feature "Bug of the Week."

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