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Insect Repellent DEET Linked to Central Nervous System Damage

Posted Aug 06 2009 11:22pm
Insect Repellent DEET Linked to Central Nervous System Damage

A chemical agent used in many brands of insect repellents appears to damage the central nervous system in laboratory rats and may have the same devastating effect on humans, French medical researchers say.

N,N-Diethyl-3-methylbenzamide, which for obvious reasons is better known as DEET, can be especially damaging to the body when it is combined with pesticides called carbamates, according to the new research. Many insect repellents use both DEET and carbamate pesiticides.

DEET is a widely used active ingredient in spray-on insect repellents that are used by about 200 million people worldwide each year. Still, there is little scientific knowledge about how the chemical works and many studies have suggested exposure to the chemical agent may carry negative consequences for humans and animals.

Toxic exposure to pesticides in the air, soil, and ground water is a leading cause of birth defects, cancer, and other serious injuries in the United States and around the world. Chemicals such as DEET in pesticides have long been associated with adverse health consequences in people.

Researchers trying to discover more about DEET said it appears that the chemical inhibits the acetylcholinesterase enzyme located in the central nervous system in not only insects, but also in mice. Carbamate insecticides and organophosphates interact much the same way and when combined with DEET in the study, the mixture increased the toxicity of the chemicals, according to the researchers.

More study is required to determine whether DEET has the same negative effect on humans, the scientists said.

One previous study found a strong link between exposure to acetylcholinesterase inhibitors and so-called Gulf War illness suffered by many military veterans returning from combat in the Middle East. Organophosphates have also been suspected of causing acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of leukemia found in children.

Some Experts Question Findings

Many medical experts are already casting doubts on the new French study suggesting a link between exposure to DEET and central nervous system damage.

Some experts said there is more to worry about diseases spread by mosquitoes and other insects than concerns over health consequences of exposure to DEET.

Meanwhile, people should probably worry more about the health risks from mosquitoes and other insects than about the potential harms of DEET, experts said.

“The jury is still out on what implications this has for humans,” said Dr. Ted Schettler, science director of the Science & Environmental Health Network.

Other experts have said the DEET has been used for decades with few negative effects and that only exposure to very high doses of the chemical for long periods of time has so far been shown to cause neurological symptoms.

Note: There are safer, far more effective repellents that are made from 100% EPA exempt ingredients - DEET was originally formulated as a mosquito attractant - when it was found that higher concentrations actually repelled mosqujitoes - DEET was sold as a repellent. As DEET diminishes in strength - I believe it will again attract mosquitoes.
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