The Right and Wrong Way to Apply Bug Spray

Deer tick seen under a microscope at Mayo Clinic's parasitology laboratory.
Deer tick seen under a microscope at Mayo Clinic's parasitology laboratory.

According to a recent article in the Huffington Post, there are several mosquito and tick-borne diseases, including Eastern equine encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis, West Nile virus and Lyme disease. West Nile virus is one of the most common carried by mosquitos. In 2012, West Nile was responsible for 5,674 illnesses and 286 deaths. The previous year, 24,364 people were infected with Lyme disease, which is carried by ticks.

While insect repellent is a good way to ward off disease-carrying insects, you may be making common bug spray mistakes.

One of the common mistakes is to not read bug spray labels. The repellent you choose should depend on the type of insect you're trying to ward off. The CDC suggests using repellents with picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus to prevent mosquito bites, while a spray with 20 percent or more DEET should be used to fight both ticks and mosquitos.

Dr. Bobbi Pritt
Dr. Bobbi Pritt

According to Dr. Bobbi Pritt, M.D., director of the Clinical Parasitology Laboratory at the Mayo Clinic, "Permethrin-containing products can also be used directly on clothing but should not be applied to skin."

While DEET has been responsible for some nasty side effects, including numb or burning lips, nausea, headaches and rashes, mosquitos and ticks put victims at risk of everything from Lyme disease to the West Nile virus.

Dr. Brent Bauer

Dr. Brent Bauer, M.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program, says, "I'm generally in favor of trying to find natural solutions for most of life’s challenges –- but this is one time where, for many of us, a little risk from DEET may be worth it."

In addition to being aware of bug spray ingredients, it's important to wear it whenever bugs may be present. According to Dr. Pritt, "There are so many potentially serious, and even deadly, disease-causing organisms that can be transmitted by ticks and mosquitoes. It is always best to err on the safe side and use insect repellent when there is a chance of them."

Read the full article to see all common bug spray mistakes.

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Kelley Luedke (@kschrib)

Kelley Luedke

Kelley Luedke is a Marketing Channel Manager at Mayo Clinic Laboratories. She is the principle editor and writer of Insights and leads social media and direct marketing strategy. Kelley has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2013. Outside of work, you can find Kelley running, traveling, playing with her kitty, and exploring new foods.