DEET Repellents Safe in Pregnancy to Prevent Zika, Researchers Say
Analysis of available evidence on the insecticide finds no cause for concern
WebMD News from HealthDay
By Alan Mozes
MONDAY, Oct. 10, 2016 (HealthDay News) — DEET insect repellents won't harm a pregnant woman or her fetus when used as instructed to prevent infection with the Zika virus, a new research analysis suggests.
Exposure to the mosquito-transmitted virus during pregnancy can cause devastating birth defects, including microcephaly, which results in abnormally small heads and brains.
Because of this, recommendations to mothers-to-be include protecting themselves from mosquito bites by using products containing DEET in areas where Zika is circulating.
But some women worry that the repellents themselves might pose a toxic threat to an unborn child. Not so, say the authors of the new research review.
"Given what we know about both Zika and DEET, the evidence overwhelmingly favors use of DEET-containing products," said Dr. Blair Wylie, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School's division of maternal-fetal medicine.
Her team noted that a 1998 Environmental Protection Agency review determined that DEET posed no health risk to users. The EPA reaffirmed that finding in 2014.
"An infection during pregnancy with Zika can put babies at risk for death, birth defects including brain problems, poor growth, and hearing or eyesight loss," Wylie said. "Insect repellents are key to prevention."
Typically, that means repellents containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide). The insecticide has been used since the 1950s and is available in more than 200 products.
These repellents are "considered safe with few side effects if used properly," added Wylie, lead author of the new study. It's published in the November issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
"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 your hands after application and don't apply it under clothing.
Another ob-gyn agreed with the study's conclusion that DEET is safe for pregnant women.
"The available data suggests that DEET is safe in pregnancy," said Dr. R. Phillips Heine, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.
"There is little that is absorbed systemically, so the fetus will be exposed to very low amounts. I would recommend DEET, as well as other mosquito-avoidance measures," Heine said.