"Only 40 percent of Americans use repellent with DEET when they head outdoors," Morcone said. "So 60 percent of people who go outdoors are unprotected when the mosquitoes are out."
Despite government assurances that DEET is safe and effective when used as directed, some consumers have shied away from the chemical compound over concerns about reported adverse affects, such as rashes and seizures. Of particular concern to parents: The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages using repellents with DEET concentrations of 30 percent or higher on children.
In addition, the way DEET smells, feels on the skin, and the damage it causes to plastics, leather, and other materials have sent consumers in search of effective alternatives, said Mark Bauman, a marketing director for Spectrum Brands, which markets Cutter Advanced.
According to Bauman, Cutter Advanced with picaridin is odorless and has a light, clean feel on the skin. Spectrum also produces an oil of lemon eucalyptus-based repellent for consumers in search of a more natural alternative.
"DEET has been the gold standard, the only game in town. But now there's a new generation of insect repellents that offer the protection consumers have come to expect from DEET without the negatives," Bauman said.
Consumers have long used alternatives to DEET-based products, including pure vanilla, citronella oil, Avon Skin So Soft bath oil, fabric softener, and catnip.
While many people rely on these products and homegrown remedies, Morcone said they are not proven as effective against mosquitoes in the scientific literaturea prerequisite for CDC approval.
"We're not saying they don't work, but these aren't scientifically proven remedies. And with West Nile virus here to stay, we don't want people taking chances with their health," she said.
As individuals, corporations, and researchers work to improve insect repellents, Morcone said the CDC will keep an open mind and regularly assess active ingredients for possible approval.
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