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To DEET or not to DEET

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Deborah Goad, Beacon Correspondent

How many people remember the mosquito spraying trucks of their youth? Were you one of the kids that, when hearing the distinctive sound made from the propulsion of fog emitted from the truck, ran out into the haze, running directly behind the truck to be engulfed in the white fog?

It’s a memory many older Floridians share. Thankfully parents today are more aware of the chemicals in the environment and educate children to be aware of chemicals that may harm them.

Matt Weldon, director of Levy County Mosquito Control, said one of the things he asks school children when he speaks to them, is would they take a can of insect spray and spray themselves in the face? Well, that's the same thing as running into the fog and they get the point immediately.

The chemicals used now are safer and spraying is calculated and calibrated.

Levy County just acquired an additional truck through a program with the State Mosquito Control. They purchased a used mosquito truck from Citrus County. The state gives each county money for mosquito control equipment. When truck no longer fit the needs of Citrus County, it was offered to other counties for purchase. After winning the $6,000 bid, the 2005 Ford F-150 was outfitted with the latest computer, pump and spray motor. The computer monitoring equipment is a high-tech system where the pump itself is connected to the monitoring system and is calibrated with the chemical.

Weldon explained that the computer tells the pump the amount of chemical to be dispersed as the vehicle is driving down the road at 20 mph. If the vehicle exceeds that speed, then the pump cuts off. So, the driver cannot exceed the speed limit and disperse the chemicals at an effective rate. The system the truck uses is the latest upgraded system, the Monitor 4, which replaced the 10-year-old Monitor 3 system.

The spray used in the trucks is a 'quick knock down' spray. The county is using a pyrethrin based formula, same as used in restaurants for flies and such. Unfortunately, all types of spraying will kill bees if they come in contact with the spray. Weldon says he communicates with beekeeper groups, as they are encouraged to call the office of Mosquito Control and let them know where their hives are located. The drivers will have the residents' location put onto their 'no spray sheet' and the driver will turn off the sprayer in that location.

The trucks travel residential streets and through neighborhoods. Weldon said if residents are having a particular mosquito problem they can call the Mosquito Control office and an employee will come out with a backpack sprayer and spray. This is a free service. Mosquito Control hours are 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday thru Friday. The office can be contacted at (352) 486-5127.

The Mosquito Control office also has a wealth of free information for residents regarding the mosquito. One very handy booklet is the “Florida Residents’ Guide to Mosquito Control.” The booklet, issued by the UF/IFAS Extension, covers just about every question that comes to mind when one thinks about mosquitoes, including the diseases they carry, what attracts them to your yard, the best and safest way to repel them, and what products are not effective for reducing mosquitos. At the back of the pamphlet are several pages discussing genetically engineered mosquitoes, as the war to reduce the populations of these disease carrying and nuisance insects continue.

Another pamphlet, “Stop Raising Mosquitoes in Your Yard” (free from Mosquito Control) suggests spraying around the home with malathion on a regular basis. For a quick 'knock down' for a party or outdoor cookout, use a pressurized spray can containing 0.1% pyrethrin or .05% to 1% dichlorvos (DDVP, Vapona), misting lightly between tables and chairs. These are approved by the EPA and are available at most hardware stores and garden supply centers.

Of course, getting rid of all the standing water is the best way to reduce your mosquito problem. Just one bottle cap of water can produce hundreds of mosquitos and the hotter temperatures help to speed up the incubation time incredibly. A bi-weekly walk around your property to dump out plant saucers, pet dishes, bottles, buckets, anything that holds water, will greatly reduce breeding grounds.

Weldon warned to pay attention to bird baths, to keep it from becoming a breeding pool for mosquitos. Bird baths need to be scrubbed out and cleaned in the warmer months at least twice a week, not just to keep your furry feathered friends happy and coming back month after month, but also to keep the spread of diseases down, as the birds travel great distances several times a year. Relatedly, visitors to our state sometimes jokingly ask if the Mosquito is indeed our state bird?! (Of course, we all know our state bird is the Northern Mockingbird.)

As unsightly as an old tire is in the yard, it is also a favorite hatching ground for many of the disease carrying mosquitos. Mosquitos carrying the Zika virus love to breed in dark containers, as do ones carrying Dengue, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, St. Louis Encephalitis, West Nile Fever and West Nile Encephalitis, dog heartworm and Chikungunya. All of these mosquito-borne diseases have been detected in Florida.

To protect yourself from mosquitos, there are many products out on the market today. You've probably heard, 'Use DEET.' 'Don't use DEET.' Use DEET on children.' 'Don't use DEET on children.' This leads to confusion and worry. It's recommended to do your research and follow label instructions when applying products. Three repellents approved and recommended by the EPA are: DEET (N-Diethyl-m-toluamide), Picaridin (KBR 3023) and Oil of lemon eucalyptus (p-methane 3,8-diol, or PMD).

DEET, or diethyltoluamide, first appeared in 1944 and was used as a pesticide in agriculture. It was also used in 1944 by the Army, during 'jungle warfare' in World War II, and became known in civilian use in 1957. The original formula was 75% DEET and ethanol, where it was later tweaked by the Army and the USDA. With other ingredients added to reduce the evaporation rate, DEET was registered by the EPA in 1991. The products containing DEET today thankfully have much lower concentrations, and I believe this is where the confusion lies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that DEET not be used on infants under 2 months of age. In 2002, Canada re-evaluated their findings on DEET and recommends that DEET should not to be used on children under 6 months of age. Babies should be covered with netting when outdoors to keep them protected, and dressed in light covered clothing. The EPA states that 10% and 30% DEET containing products are safe on children and adults.

The numbers in Canada vary from the US EPA recommendations: children between the ages of 2 and 12 should use 10% or less and applied no more than three times a day; children under 2 not more than one time a day.

Sprays are recommended over lotion, as the lotion is 'rubbed into the pores of the skin force the molecules into the skin. We tend to forget it is an insecticide.

Products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under 3 years of age. Repellents should always be applied OVER clothing, not under, and washed off thoroughly by the end of day. A Cornell University study on the employees at the Everglades National found that the employees with extensive DEET exposure were more likely to have insomnia, mood disturbances and impaired cognitive function compared to the employees that had less exposure.

While it is frustrating to have to apply and reapply products, research suggests it’s much safer to use products with smaller concentrations of DEET.

Bottom line, it's recommened you use products carefully, and if using an all-natural product, research the oils before using the products on children!

Florida Health has a colorful handout also available at Mosquito Control with very simple advice: drain and cover! Drain standing water, and discard old tires, bottles, cans, etc. Cover your skin, wear light clothing, socks, shoes, long sleeves and pants. Use repellents, and cover doors and windows with screens.