The rainy season has begun, and it comes with the threat of dengue. Last year, there were more than 200,000 suspected cases of dengue including nearly 600 deaths in the country, according to the Department of Health (DOH) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The number is over 60 percent higher compared to 2014. And five months into 2016, news reports are showing an alarming rise in dengue cases all over the country.
Even with the distribution of the world’s first dengue vaccine to the Philippines, other preventive measures are still strongly advised and pushed for by the DOH. This includes the elimination of possible mosquito breeding grounds and the use of anti-mosquito bite products.
For parents, this means arming your kids with mosquito repellent lotion before they head to school. Which then begs the question: How do we know that these products can really keep the disease-carrying bloodsuckers at bay?
According to an article from the NPR, written by Susan Brink, which provides very useful insight on the subject, the top ingredients to look for in insect repellents are DEET, picaridin, or lemon eucalyptus.
In a 2015 study that tested commercial mosquito repellents, DEET (with the full chemical name N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) was found to be the most effective for both the initial application and after four hours of use. It doesn’t kill mosquitos but effectively keeps them away.
“DEET is the standard,” says Dr. Mustapha Debboun, director of the mosquito control division of Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services in the U.S. “All the repellents being tested are tested to see if they beat DEET,” adds Debboun.
DEET has been found effective and safe for kids but parents should still take precaution. Always follow directions on the label and do not over-apply, advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S.
In addition, parents of children age 10 and below should be the ones applying the repellent to their kids, leaving the hands and areas around the eyes and mouth. It’s also not recommended for babies under 2 months old, according to both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Prefer a DEET-free repellent? Researchers from the New Mexico State University found that products containing lemon eucalyptus oil were just as effective and long lasting as those containing DEET.
Aside from these two, products containing picaridin and IR 3535 are also effective, or even more so. Like products containing lemon eucalyptus oil, repellents with these active ingredients are recommended safe and effective by the CDC.
Dr. Dan Strickman, who is with the Global Health Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and author of Prevention of Bug Bites, Stings, and Disease attests to the effectiveness of picaridin in particular.
“Picaridin is a little more effective than DEET and seems to keep mosquitoes at a greater distance,” he says. Plus, he further explains that mosquitos may still land on the skin but not bite with DEET. Picaridin, on the other hand, prevents mosquitos from landing at all.
What about mosquito patches you ask? Unfortunately, the study above found that skin patches which promise to repel mosquitos aren’t at all effective. “We didn't find any evidence that it has any effect on mosquitoes,” says Dr. Immo Hansen, an author of the study and professor at the Institute of Applied Bioscience at the university.