Kids MD - Is DEET Safe?

Yvette J. Brown | CWK Network

"DEET, when used as recommended, is a very safe insect repellant on children.."
- Dr. Karen Dewling, pediatrician -

For Laura Kruglewicz and her family, mosquitoes are a big problem.

"We don't even go out of our house around our neighborhood because the mosquitoes are just terrible," she says. "It makes summer kind of miserable, really, because the mosquitoes just take over."

Many people use bug repellant with DEET as a first line of defense against the bothersome bugs of summer. Kruglewicz, however, tries to avoid using it on her children -- Casey, 2 and Kellan, 1.

"I don't really like using the DEET products because I know some of it can be sort of dangerous to children," says Kruglewicz. "So it's hard. It's really hard in the summer."

Is DEET dangerous? New research from Duke University found that DEET causes brain cell damage and behavioral changes in rats. There's also concern that the chemical can increase the risk of seizures.

"Certainly there are concerns about overexposing children to DEET and other insect repellants," says Pediatrician Karen Dewling. "That's why I think it's so important to use the products in the way they are meant to be used."

Dr. Dewling explains that DEET poses little risk as long as it's used as recommended. For example, The American Academy of Pediatrics says repellants containing 30 percent or less of DEET are safe for children older than two months. Doctors also say that a DEET-containing repellant should be applied sparingly, and only to exposed areas. They further recommend limiting its use to once a day.

And while there are many products that combine sunscreen and bug spray, e xperts warn against combining DEET repellants with sunscreen.

"We recommend that parents reapply sunscreen frequently throughout the day if they are outdoors. If they are using a combination product, that would mean multiple exposures to the DEET and that might increase their risk of toxicity," Dr. Dewling explains.

Research also suggests that DEET can decrease the effectiveness of sunscreen, thereby exposing children to the dangers of the sun. The bottom line, says experts, is to use the products you need when you need them most -- generally speaking, sunscreen during the day and bug spray at dusk and dawn.

In the meantime, Kruglewicz says she still prefers to play it safe.

"I know that DEET is what works, but do I want to use it? No, I'd rather stay inside," she says. "I'm hoping they're going to come up with some miracle product or some way to get rid of mosquitoes, period."

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