DEET first line of defense against insects

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. John Fage
  • Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs
Whether hiking in the woods at home or serving in the sands of the Middle East, Airmen need a repellent to shield themselves from biting insects.

The active ingredient in most skin-applied repellents is commonly referred to as DEET. It is a must on almost every deployment checklist and for good reason. It protects servicemembers on the ground from mosquitoes, deer ticks, biting flies, chiggers, fleas and other insects.

“Insect bites are a painful nuisance and may even be a source of disease,” said Maj. Martin Alexis, bioenvironmental engineer for Air Force Reserve Command headquarters here. “DEET serves as a first line of defense against biting insects and other vector-borne diseases.”

Vector-borne infectious diseases continue to emerge and strengthen because of changes in public-health policy, said officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. As these diseases evolve, they become less susceptible to insecticides and drugs.

While all Airmen should use DEET, not all do, officials said.

Some people are skeptical about using it, wondering how something that repels insects can be a good thing to put on their hands, arms, faces and necks, especially when deployed and showers can be limited.

“Maybe it's sticky or uncomfortable,” Major Alexis said.

Airmen risk contracting diseases such as malaria and leishmaniasis if they do not protect themselves, he said.

"Deploying personnel are supplied with three containers of DEET,” said John Depew, 78th Logistics Readiness Squadron assistant installation deployment officer here. “One comes with their A-bag, and their units supply two additional containers. They can obtain more containers once they are in theater."

Approved by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1957 as an active ingredient, DEET was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1946. According to the EPA, about 38 percent of the American public uses DEET-based products.

The human body emits carbon dioxide and that is what attracts many insects. It acts like a homing device, guiding mosquitoes to their dinner. DEET disrupts an insect’s ability to detect carbon dioxide.

According to studies in the New England Journal of Medicine, DEET-based repellents provide longer protection from insects than repellents without it.

The Consumer Specialty Products Association lists some important tips to keep in mind when using DEET:

-- Always follow instructions.

-- Do not soak clothing or bedding with DEET-base repellents.

-- The more DEET in the product, the longer the protection lasts.

-- DEET-based repellents should be applied to exposed, unbroken skin.

Additional information about protection from insects can be found at or by calling the DEET education program hotline toll free at (888) 662-4837. (Courtesy of AFRC News Service)