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Bug dope

With the arrival of insect season, U.P. residents are once again itching to know what works and what doesn’t

June 1, 2010
By CHRISTOPHER DIEM Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - There's a reason the mosquito has jokingly been referred to as the Upper Peninsula's state bird.

With the arrival of summer, people venturing into the woods should take precautions against mosquitos and other insects found all over the U.P. Insect repellent is one of the handiest weapons in the arsenal against pests.

Repellents help protect against mosquito bites, which can transmit dengue fever, West Nile virus, eastern equine encephalitis and malaria or tick bites, which can carry Lyme disease.

Article Photos

These examples of insect repellant are seen in a Marquette-area store recently. (Journal photo by Christopher Diem)

Repellent is basically broken down into two groups, synthetic and natural. Synthetic repellents use chemicals such as N,N diethyl-m-toluamide, better known as DEET. DEET can be found in different percentages, the higher the percentage, the more concentrated it is and the longer it lasts.

Natural repellents use ingredients such as oil of lemon eucalyptus.

According to Dr. Milton Soderberg, a dermatologist, the Centers for Disease Control recommended equally DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535 for skin.

Fact Box

"I, myself, have never seen anybody have a problem with DEET but there are these 43 reports in world literature. It's been used successfully since World War II."

- Milton Soderberg, dermatologist

Centers for Disease Control

Soderberg said there have been over 40 cases of DEET toxicity reported in the last 50 years but the the product is widely considered safe.

"I, myself, have never seen anybody have a problem with DEET but there are these 43 reports in world literature. It's been used successfully since World War II," he said.

Soderberg said natural bug repellents tend to evaporate fairly quickly compared to DEET and other synthetic products which stay on skin longer.

The CDC said DEET and picaridin have shown a higher degree of effectiveness than other repellent ingredients in peer-reviewed, scientific literature.

Soderberg said he tried picaridin with mixed results.

"I was using that, I thought it was working well. But last year I put it on to go pick blackberries and I got chewed alive," he said.

In two recent studies, oil of lemon eucalyptus provided similar protection to repellents with low concentrations of DEET, according

People shouldn't apply repellent to skin that is under clothing or to cuts, wounds or irritated skin. Neither should they spray aerosol or pump products directly at their faces. Instead people should spray their hands then wipe their face, avoiding their eyes and mouth.

There have been no definitive studies done in scientific literature about what concentration of DEET is safe for children.

However the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Environmental Health reported that repellent with a 10 percent concentration of DEET appears to be as safe when used according to the directions on the product label.

The AAP recommends not using DEET repellent on infants less that 2 months old.

Bob Weisenberger, a store manager at Gander Mountain in Marquette, said the choice between synthetic and natural repellents comes down to personal preference.

He said one of the store's popular repellents is Bye Bye Blackfly, a natural repellent made with cedarwood oil, lemongrass oil, peppermint oil, clove oil, citronella oil and other chemicals.

"It's been very popular and reports are that it works really well," he said.

This time of year people are looking for protection from ticks and blackflies, Weisenberger said. As the summer moves on, people are more concerned with mosquito protection.

Other types of repellents are used on fabrics like clothes and tents. They often include the ingredient permethrin.

"A lot of people get around the chemicals by using bug netting, head nets, body suits... but it has its own downsides as far as being more cumbersome," Weisenberger said.

Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His e-mail address is



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