Mosquito repellent sales soaring on Zika virus worries

Fears about the Zika virus, a disease believed to be carried by mosquitoes and linked to birth defects, is making for increased sales for pest-control businesses and makers of bug spray.

According to market-research company IRI, sales of insect repellent and rodent control products topped $516 million in the 52-week period ending Jan. 24, an increase of 11.2 percent from the previous year.

A ranking recently released by Consumer Reports had the nonprofit media group recommending four out of 15 products, saying that the most effective repellents have heavy amounts of picardin or Deet.

S.C. Johnson, maker of OFF! insecticide, and Spectrum Brands (SPB), which producers Cutter bug spray, both say they are seeing skyrocketing demand for their products, and increasing production as a result.

"Our plants are working around the clock to meet customer and consumer demand," according to S.C. Johnson. The company also is "looking into every possible option to ensure effective products are going to those that need them most. This includes production in the U.S. and in all the markets where we operate."

Spectrum Brands is registering its insecticide products with governments in Latin America, which the company had planned to do before the Zika outbreak.

"The outbreak of Zika has sped up that process," said Eric Kenney, the company's vice president of Home & Garden Marketing. The company's insecticides should be available in Latin America by the next quarter, he added.

According to Kenney, sales of the company's products have soared between 30 percent and 150 percent during the past few weeks compared to the year-ago period. Demand is especially high in southern states such as Texas, Louisiana and Florida, along with Puerto Rico, which has a tropical climate.

Sales have also spiked in locations where temperatures currently are freezing such as New York City due to demand from travelers headed to countries where the virus is prevalent.

In some Latin American countries, notably Brazil, the virus is linked to a steep increase in babies born with abnormally small heads.

During the weekend, the World Health Organization said that a rare neurological disorder is on the rise in several Latin American countries that are also seeing an outbreak of the Zika virus, which has spread to 34 countries.

  • Jonathan Berr On Twitter»

    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.