To DEET or not to DEET?

Nasty mosquito season has residents itching for solutions

Published On: Jul 22 2013 01:53:55 AM CDT

The wet weather and warm temperatures have created a perfect storm for a nasty mosquito season in southwestern Wisconsin.

Everyone agrees that mosquitoes are a nuisance, but there are differing opinions about how to combat the pests.

In particular, there are differing opinions about the use of DEET, the most common active ingredient in most insect repellents.

To make matters worse, studies indicate that a popular beverage of choice might make Wisconsin residents more prone to mosquito bites.

Bugs are a potential problem, for example, in Capital Brewery's beer garden, where a good buzz can often be joined by a bad one.

That bites. In more ways than one.

"That's just one of those things you've got to deal with," said Ian Thornburg of Capital Brewery. "I wish they could actually make a beer that would repel insects. I know that's probably not going to happen. It just makes our blood sweeter to them."

Think he’s kidding? Think again.

According to a study published by no less than "Smithsonian Magazine," just 12 ounces of your favorite brew can attract more mosquitoes.

Not far away from Capital Brewery’s beer garden, this summer has some running to REI's shelves to buy anything that even remotely promises to keep mosquitoes away.

That includes clothes pre-treated with permethrin, a chemical often used in incesticides, that, according to REI sales manager Andy Marin, "actually lasts through about 70 washes."

Marin says whether to DEET or not to DEET is still a heavy question weighing on many customers’ minds.

Which isn’t the same question as whether or not to allow open season on your skin for mosquitoes.

"Depending on what you like to use, whether it's DEET, whether it's permethrin, whether it's something herbal, there’s an option for you," said Marin.

As long as users don't lather it on too thick, Dr. Jim Nettum with Dean Clinic has no doubts about DEET.

"It's a free country. You can believe whatever you want to believe," said Dr. Nettum. "But if you want to believe the scientific studies, DEET is effective and it’s safe, and it's the best product if you reallly want to repel all mosquitoes."

Dr. Nettum said that in the Madison area, you don’t necessarily need 100 percent protection.

"Anything greater than 30 percent is really overkill," said Dr. Nettum. "In this climate, in this region, really 30 percent is sufficient."

And even if the studies correlating mosquito bites and beer are true, many Wisconsinites will probably swallow hard and grin and bear the extra bites.

"I know I like beer because it's better than water, and I can't imagine any other animal would have a different reaction," offers Thornburg.

Dr. Nettum also claims DEET is the best way to prevent disease like West Nile Virus.

He contends that West Nile Virus is less of a problem in Wisconsin this year, with to his knowledge, only one bird in the state being found with the virus so far.

But he cautions that the peak for West Nile Virus is in August and September.