Mosquito-borne disease is an annual problem in Australia, with endemic pathogens such as Ross River virus infecting thousands of people each year. The recent emergence of Zika virus in South America and the Pacific, together with ongoing outbreaks of dengue viruses in Southeast Asia, generated great community interest in the most effective strategies to avoid mosquito bites. Large-scale mosquito control programs are not common in Australia and are limited in New South Wales (NSW).
The use of topical insect repellents is a key recommendation by health authorities to prevent mosquito-borne disease. All products sold in Australia purporting to repel mosquitoes must be registered with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority. Despite around 100 commercial products registered as repelling mosquitoes, there are relatively few active ingredients used across these formulations. The most common are diethyltoluamide (DEET), picaridin, p-menthane-3,8-diol (PMD) and a range of plant-derived products (e.g. melaleuca, eucalyptus, citronella oils). Research has shown that each of these active ingredients varies in the duration of protection provided against biting mosquitoes.
Recommendations by health authorities are informed by this research, but inconsistencies between recommendations and available repellent formulations and their concentration of active ingredients can cause confusion in the community. There are conflicts between the data resulting from scholarly research, marketing promotion by manufacturers and recommendations provided by overseas health authorities. A review was undertaken of NSW Health’s current recommendations on choosing and using insect repellents, taking into consideration recent research and currently registered topical repellents.