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Using DEET Repellents Safely

This article appears in the July 2004 NEBLINE Newsletter. It was submitted by Barb Ogg, Extension Educator, University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County. Source: Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services System

Using DEET Repellents Safely According to Wayne Kramer, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Medical Entomologist, DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) is an effective insect repellent but should be used with caution.

Products containing DEET have been occasionally associated with skin reactions, including rash, swelling and itching; eye irritation; and, in rare instances, slurred speech, confusion and seizures. Most adverse reactions have been associated with frequent re-application and saturation of the skin. It is best to use as little repellent as needed for your situation and only apply the repellent as needed.

Follow these precautions when using repellents containing DEET:

  • Read all instructions on the label before applying DEET.

  • People can use both sunscreen and DEET when they are outdoors. Follow package instructions for proper application of each product. Apply sunscreen first, followed by DEET repellent.

  • Avoid prolonged and excessive use of DEET. Use sparingly to exposed skin: do not treat unexposed skin.

  • Do not apply repellents in enclosed areas.

  • Do not apply directly to your face.

  • Do not allow young children to apply DEET themselves.

  • Do not apply DEET directly to children. Apply to your own hands and then put it on the child. (According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, repellents used on children should contain no more than 10 percent DEET).

  • When applying DEET, avoid the child’s face and hands.

  • DEET can be applied to clothing, but may damage some synthetic fabrics and plastics.

  • Wash all treated skin and clothing after returning indoors

  • Store out of the reach of children.

  • If you believe you or a child is having an adverse reaction to a repellent containing DEET, wash the treated area immediately and call your health care provider or local poison control center

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