April 27, 2006
Experts: New Repellants May Slow West Nile
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Bug and health experts say there's no way to predict whether 2006 will be another bad year for the West Nile virus. But they do say new repellants could help people protect themselves from mosquitoes that carry the disease.
The products are made from either of two ingredients approved for use last year, Picaridin and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus. They're promoted as not having the same chemical smell and feel as DEET, which has been the most recommended insect repellant.
"It's about time we get something new in the United States besides DEET," said Lon Kightlinger, state epidemiologist. "It's another bullet in our arsenal."
Consumer surveys found that people don't like DEET's chemical smell and feel, and the fact that it can hurt synthetic materials is another negative, said Joe Conlon, an adviser to the American Mosquito Control Association.
"They found out by actually going door to door with people is the reason they weren't using repellants is the cosmetic properties," he told reporters Wednesday on an Internet news conference set up by Spectrum Brands (SPC), which sells Cutter repellants.
Picaridin and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus have been used in other countries for years. The Centers for Disease control last year approved them for use in the U.S. because they were found to be good alternatives to products made with DEET, said Emily Zielinski-Gutierrez with CDC in Fort Collins, Colo.
Still, using DEET is a good way to keep from getting bitten, she said.
Ed Tate, spokesman for the DEET Education Program in Washington, agreed.
Many products containing DEET that are intended for a few hours of protection don't have the higher concentrations of the chemical that repellants used to have, he said.
"Some impressions about DEET are based on old, high concentrations of formulations. But lower concentrations of products are very appealing," Tate said. "DEET has been used reliably by American consumers for more than 50 years and been recommended by experts such as the CDC for decades."
Spectrum was the only company that sold products with Picaridin and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus last year but does have consumer competition this year.
Regardless of the choice, it's important that people use something, Kightlinger said.
South Dakota has recorded 1,357 West Nile cases and 17 deaths from the virus since the first reported case in 2002, when 37 cases were documented, he said.
The number grew to 1,039 human cases in 2003. The incidence plummeted to 51 cases in 2004, and 229 cases were reported last year.
The entire region has some of the highest rates of the virus and South Dakota had the most cases per capita in North America in 2003 and 2005, Kightlinger said.
"There's something about the upper Great Plains that that mosquito likes," he said.
West Nile symptoms are flu-like and usually mild. However, the disease can cause paralysis and lingering health problems.
The elderly and people with weak immune systems are most susceptible to the worst forms of the disease. July and August are the worst months for spread of the virus.
Mike Catangui, state Extension entomologist at South Dakota State University in Brookings, said so many factors go into West Nile cases that predictions are impossible.
Local governments plan to spray but ultimately it's up to people protecting themselves, such as wearing long sleeves and pants and using a repellant, he said.
"It's up to us to do something," Catangui said. "We really cannot afford to be complacent."
On the Net:
American Mosquito Control Association
Centers for Disease Control
South Dakota Department of Health