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DEET to Protect Against Zika Appears Safe During Pregnancy

Analysis of available evidence on the insecticide finds no cause for concern

zika virus pregnant woman

TUESDAY, Oct. 11, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET) insect repellents won't harm a pregnant woman or her fetus when used as instructed to prevent Zika infection, according to research published in the November issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Blair Wylie, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor at Harvard Medical School's division of maternal-fetal medicine, and her team noted that a 1998 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) review determined that DEET posed no health risk to users. The EPA reaffirmed that finding in 2014.

These repellents are "considered safe with few side effects if used properly," Wylie told HealthDay. "Proper" use, Wylie added, means avoiding the eyes, mouth, cuts, and irritated skin when applying to the face. Also, apply DEET after sunscreen (don't use combination products), wash hands after application, and don't apply it under clothing.

DEET products are available in concentrations ranging from 5 percent to nearly 100 percent, Wylie said, noting she would never recommend using anything above 30 percent. "Their effectiveness at repelling insects plateaus around there," she said. "The added concentration would not increase benefit."

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