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Keeping The Bugs At Bay

If you're planning to enjoy the Fourth of July fireworks, be sure to pack some insect repellent. In Tuesday's CBS HealthWatch on The Early Show, Dr. Emily Senay offered advice on how best to prevent getting those potentially dangerous bug bites. PREVENTING BITES

  • Do insects pose a real health threat?

    It depends. In some parts of the country, mosquitoes and ticks are more of a problem this summer than ever before and they could carry diseases like encephalitis, West Nile fever and lyme disease.

  • Which insecticides should you choose?

    Pick a product that matches the activity you have planned. You won't need the same level of insect protection for a backyard party as you would for a four-hour, deep-woods hike. Read the label carefully. Not all products protect against all insects. In general, when choosing a product make sure it works on lots of different insects, provides at least two hours of protection and is easy to use.

  • How dangerous are products with deet?

    Deet, the common name for a chemical called n, n-diethyl-meta-toulamid, has had a bad reputation. Mostly from 40-year-old reports of children who had severe reactions, including convulsions, even death. Since then, researchers have taken a second look at those cases and found that the deet had been misused and abused. It was applied way too frequently and in concentrations that were way too high. A 1998 review in the Annals of Internal Medicine says deet is remarkably safe. In 40 years, millions of people have used it without having problems. And there's no insect repellent on the market that's more effective it kills the broadest spectrum of bugs and lasts longer than any other deterrent. You just need to use some common sense and safe application.

    Some products combine deet with sunscreen, but you need to be careful about these products. Deet reduces the effectiveness of the sunscreen, so if you do choose a combination product, make sure to look for a higher SPF factor than you normally would. Also, it can damage synthetic fibers and plastic, so be careful with it.

    • Choose the lowest concentration to get the job done.
    • Apply to exposed skin or clothing.
    • Reapply only as directed.
    • Remove with soap and water.

  • How effective are natural products, like citronella? Citronella, whether in creams or the new bracelets, has a very short period of effectiveness. In candles, it's the smoke produced from the burning that provides some protection, not the citronella itself.

    Soybean oil has proved to be fairly effective against mosquitoes. One soybean-oil based product called "Blocker" has had good reports. Also, a chemical called permethrin, a synthetic version of chrysanthemum oil, is the main ingredient in a product called Repel Permanone, which you spray on clothing. It repels ticks and mosquitoes even through several launderings.

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