The well-publicized risks of Zika infection in pregnancy have been scary. Even scarier is the speed at which the infection has spread across geographic borders, and the fact that the mosquitoes doing the spreading — Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus — are found in in South Texas.
For pregnant women worried about which insect repellent will protect them safely, Dr. Patrick Ramsey, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at UT Medicine San Antonio who practices at University Health System, offers some advice: Stay indoors, get rid of standing water on your property and cover up by wearing light-colored, long-sleeve shirts and long pants when venturing outside. And use a mosquito repellent that contains DEET, Dr. Ramsey says.
“DEET is the gold-standard ingredient in insect repellents,” Dr. Ramsey said. “We know from several large studies that about one-third of the U.S. population, including pregnant women, have used or are currently using mosquito repellents containing DEET. DEET doesn’t kill mosquitos. It impairs the mosquitos’ ability to locate and bite a victim.”
DEET was developed to protect U.S. troops during World War II and became available to the general public in the 1950s. Since then, studies have shown that it is the most effective ingredient in mosquito repellents.
“These repellents are safe for large-scale uses, such as city spraying initiatives, and for personal use,” he said. “The skin is a good barrier for preventing chemicals from getting absorbed into the body. A small amount of DEET does get absorbed, but it is excreted in the urine. DEET has shown no significant adverse outcomes for pregnant and non-pregnant patients.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts DEET-containing repellents at the top of its recommended list of repellants. “When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breast-feeding women,” the CDC says.