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Is insect repellent really up to scratch?

| Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, 7:58 p.m.

With bug-biting season in full swing, there's good reason to be bugged by insect repellents.

Consumers must weigh the risks of getting a bite with the risks of chemicals engineered to keep them away — and there's no completely safe and sure way to prevent bites.

But some repellents are effective and low in toxicity, as long as users follow directions, especially for children, says a new guide by the Environmental Working Group, an environmental advocacy nonprofit.

The report -— a collection of data from the Environmental Protection Agency, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — identifies four active ingredients that can provide safe and effective protection: Picaridin, DEET, IR3535 and oil of lemon eucalyptus. The report says:

• Skip products with more than 30 percent DEET, and avoid any repellent on kids under 6 months, the report says. Higher concentrations protect longer, not better.

• Bug zappers, foggers, candles and aerosol sprays can trigger respiratory problems and contain toxic ingredients, and they may not be effective, studies show.

• Experts expect the number of insect-borne illnesses to rise as the warming climate expands the habitats of species that spread pathogens.

Aside from repellents, the report advises these precautions: Cover exposed skin with pants, long sleeves, socks and shoes; use mosquito netting; and get rid of standing water where mosquitoes breed.

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