There is no cure or vaccine for mosquito-borne disease in WA. The only way to prevent infection is to avoid being bitten, and the best defence you can have from a debilitating mosquito borne disease are your own personal protection measures:
- avoiding known mosquito habitats (such as wetlands) and peak biting times (dusk),
- wearing protective clothing
- apply a suitable insect repellents.
Not all mosquito repellents are equal
We recently conducted a survey across 5 Bunbury and Busselton retailers, and found more than 50 different mosquito repellent formulations. So how can you tell which ones will work best?
Research has found that those with the active ingredients of DEET (diethyltoluamide) and Picaridin tend to be most effective. And the higher the concentration the longer their effectiveness lasts.
DEET has been shown to be effective at preventing bites from a wide range of mosquito species including those that carry Ross River Virus and Barmah Forest Virus. It’s considered the Gold Standard in mosquito repellents. But the experts are still divided on exactly how DEET works. Many experts believe that it prevents bites by obstructing the mosquito’s ability to identify you as a target, but there is also some research that the mosquitoes smell, and are repelled, by DEET.
Picaridin works just as well as DEET, but many people find it preferable as it is odourless.
Are DEET and Picaridin safe?
All topical insect repellents sold in Australia must be registered with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA). The APVMA assess products for their efficacy and safety.
Repellents are considered extremely safe when applied correctly. With extremely widespread use DEET, and increasingly picaridin, over many years there are very few serious adverse reactions reported. As such, the two products have been endorsed by health authorities both here in Australia and internationally as a safest most effective way to avoid mosquito bites.
However, if you experience a serious reaction, consult your GP or call the Poison Information Centre Australia on 13 11 26
What’s the best repellent?
With so many products on the market it is easy to be confused when selecting the best mosquito repellent. The easiest way to tell the difference between two different repellents is to look at the concentration of the active ingredients (DEET or Picaridin). The greater the concentration of a repellent the longer they will keep working.
The concentration of the products does not affect its effectiveness at keeping mosquitoes that are kept at bay. Applied properly a 5% DEET product will work just as well as a 30% DEET concentration.
Repellents containing DEET at concentrations of 80% or 10%, for example, will both protect against mosquito bites for about two hours. While the protection provided by the 10% formulation may stop after a few hours, the 80% formulation will continue to provide protection for over ten hours.
When choosing a repellent, it’s worth keeping in mind just how long you’ll need to protect yourself. For a short run around the park, a low-concentration repellent will do the trick. But if you’re off to the beach for a long night fishing, a higher concentration repellent will keep working for hours on end.
Is Brand A better than Brand B and should I use a roll on or a spray?
Probably not. The choice of active ingredient is the most important decision. The choice of formulation is probably best guided by the ease of application. Sprays are generally most effective for arms and legs while creams and wipes are good for the face.
For complete protection, the entire surface of exposed skin must be covered. For this reason, it is probably best to apply repellent to your hands first, and then rub into exposed skin. A spray “here and there” won’t offer protection. Spraying repellent on clothes and/or belongings won’t help either.
What about ‘natural’ repellents?
Products derived from plants are often perceived to be a more natural alternative to the chemical products such as DEET and picaridin. Homemade concoctions of essential oils, particularly Eucalyptus and Melaleuca oils, are often promoted as the “safe alternative” to commercially available repellents.
Unfortunately, several studies have found that essential oils provide only limited protection from biting mosquitoes. Registered commercial products that contain botanical extracts offer some protection but will need to be reapplied far more frequently than even the low concentration DEET- or picaridin-based repellents.
Citronella for example has repeatedly been shown to be less effective than DEET.
How about wrist bands, clickers, broaches and other new products?
Although patches or plastic wrist bands are registered as repellents by APVMA, these only offer very limited and localised protection (generally only immediately around the product, if at all).
Ultrasonic repellents have been sold in many forms for many years. The most recent incarnation is smartphone apps. The failure of sound to repel mosquitoes has been shown time and time again. They simply don’t work.
How to apply a Mosquito Repellent
Always apply the repellent according to the instructions on the label.
- Always use a repellent containing up to 20% DEET or picaridin.
- Apply repellent to all areas of exposed skin.
- For all areas (except face), apply repellent directly to skin and spread evenly with hands.
- For face application, apply first to hands and then spread evenly on face, avoiding the mouth and eyes.
- Do not apply repellent under clothing.
- For prolonged periods outdoors, you may need to reapply repellent. Follow label instructions about how often you need to do this.
- Repellents will not work if you apply them sparingly to the skin.
Repellents are considered extremely safe when applied correctly. However, if you experience a serious reaction, consult your GP or call the Poison Information Centre Australia on 13 11 26.
Protecting your Children.
Where possible, avoid exposing your baby or child to mosquitoes. Consider staying indoors, using pram netting or dressing them in loose long-sleeved clothing, socks and shoes.
- Under 12 months – repellents containing DEET or picaridin are not recommended.
- From 12 months – repellents containing up to 10% DEET or picaridin can be used.
Applying mosquito repellent on children
- Always apply the repellent according to the instructions on the label.
- Do not allow children to apply repellents.
- Apply repellent first to the hands of the carer and then spread evenly to exposed skin of child.
- Avoid applying repellent to the child’s hands, near the eyes or mouth.
- Avoid applying repellent under clothing.