New Zealand needs to review the high levels of Deet in its insect repellents, with many products containing up to 50% more of the neuro-toxic substance than recommended by international health regulations, according to a Kiwi pharmacist.
Insect repellents containing 80% Deet are currently available in New Zealand, despite the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommending just 30-50% as the highest level necessary for protection.
Pharmacist George Batchelor says there needs to be a review of current levels of Deet in products sold here, as there has been in some other countries. In Canada, Deet levels for products used on adults are capped at 30% and 10% for children due to concerns about the toxicity of the active ingredient. Batchelor believes there are no current regulations in New Zealand.
What is Deet?
Deet, which is the active ingredient in many insect repellents, was found to have toxic effects in mammals in 2009. A study published in the BioMed Central Biology journal showed Deet acted like nerve paralysing gases used in war on insect and animal test subjects, raising concerns about whether it is safe for human use.
However, researchers did note that further research was required to prove negative effects on humans. Dr Daniel Sudakin of the US National Pesticide Information Center was reported to say, ‘The incidence of exposures resulting in neurotoxic effects is very low, when considered in the context of the millions of people around the world who have used insect repellents containing Deet.’
Batchelor says, ‘Deet is a neuro-toxin, which means it has the potential to affect your brain and nervous system. When there are products available with up to 80% Deet in them, people often assume they should buy the highest percentage for better protection. However the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation is a maximum of 40%.’
The history of Deet
Developed by the US Army in 1946 for soldiers involved in jungle warfare, Deet is a solvent that has also been proven to melt some plastics and textiles – a problem for those venturing into the bush or working outdoors in garments that contain Gore-Tex, or carrying packs and equipment that could be damaged by the products.
Batchelor says those concerned with negative health effects have an alternative in a lesser-known active ingredient called Picaridin. Also known as Saltidin or Icaridin, Picaridin was created by German company Bayer and is a synthetic compound developed from a plant extract from the genus Piper, the same plant genus that produces table pepper. According to the WHO, it ‘demonstrates excellent repellent properties comparable to, and often superior to, those of the standard Deet.’
Non-toxic, safe for plastics, and recommended by the WHO as the repellent of choice for malaria protection, Picaridin based products are becoming a popular alternative for consumers in New Zealand, he says.
Image / SweetCrisis