Use bug sprays with caution

With mosquitos abundant this summer, residents are reminded that excessive use of repellents containing DEET may present a health risk, particularly for children.

Most bug repellents contain DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) as their active ingredient. DEET is one of the few insect repellents that work. It is recommended to prevent mosquito-born diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and West Nile virus.

At the same time, the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development reminds everyone to exercise care when applying insect repellents. Excessive exposure to DEET can result in adverse health effects, particularly in children.

DEET may be especially dangerous for small children. Seizures may occur in small children who are consistently exposed to DEET on their skin for long periods of time, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Care should be taken to only apply lower concentrations of DEET to children for short periods of time. Products containing DEET probably should not be used on infants.

Follow these tips to reduce mosquito bites and mosquito population levels:

– Consider using non-chemical means to prevent biting, such as screens, netting, long sleeves, closed shoes, and slacks.

– Practice prevention by eliminating breeding grounds for mosquitoes, such as standing water near the home.

– Consider using biological controls for small lakes and ponds you own, such as Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, which is available at many stores.

When applying insect repellents on children, the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Environmental Health offers these guidelines:

– Apply repellent on your hands and then rub it on the child.

– Do not use repellents with DEET on infants less than two months old.

– Avoid spraying children’s eyes and mouths, and use the repellent sparingly around their ears.

– Never apply repellent to children’s hands or their skin under clothing.

– Do not allow young children to apply insect repellent to themselves.

– Once a child is indoors, wash the treated skin with soap and water.

– Keep repellents out of reach of children.

Here are some additional precautions to keep in mind regarding applying repellents and eliminating possible breeding grounds for summer insects:

– Avoid mosquitoes during their prime feeding hours of dusk and dawn.

– Before applying repellent, read all label directions; not all repellents are intended to be applied to the skin.

– Repellents with low concentrations (10 percent or below) are effective and may be preferred in most situations. Start with a low-concentration product and re-apply if necessary.

– If applying repellents over a long period of time, alternate the repellent with one having another active ingredient.

– Do not use repellents on broken or irritated skin or apply to eyes and mouth.

– Avoid breathing sprays and do not use near food.

Reactions to repellents are rare, but exposure to excessive levels of DEET may cause headaches, restlessness, crying spells, mania, staggering, rapid breathing, convulsions, and possibly coma.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development warns consumers to immediately stop using a repellent if they experience any of the above symptoms. If the product is swallowed, contact a poison control center or the hospital emergency room.

To determine if a repellent is registered for use in Michigan, visit