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Is it safe to use insect repellent (DEET) while I'm pregnant?

DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide, also known as N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) is the most widely used insect repellent . DEET-based insect repellents effectively repel most mosquitoes, biting flies, chiggers, fleas and ticks

A study of  rats and rabbits fed different concentrations of DEET found no evidence of fetal toxic effects or malformations in the offspring of exposed animals, regardless of the dose used. There are no studies on the use of DEET during the first trimester of human pregnancy.

One study of  449 pregnant women exposed to DEET during the second and third trimester found DEET crossed the placenta. However, no adverse effects were seen on survival, growth, or development at birth or at 1 year of age in the offsrping of exposed women..

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that pregnant women should take precautions to reduce their risk for West Nile virus and other infections by avoiding mosquitoes and by using protective clothing and repellents containing DEET per manufacturers' directions.

1. Schoenig GP, et. al.,  Teratological evaluations of DEET in rats and rabbits. Fund Appl Toxicol1994;23:63-9. [PubMed]
2. McGready R, et. al., Safety of the insect repellent N,N-diethyl-M-toluamide (DEET) in pregnancy.
Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2001 Oct;65(4):285-9. PMID: 11693870
3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).Intrauterine West Nile virus infection--New York, 2002.MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2002 Dec 20;51(50):1135-6.PMID: 12537289

Reviewed by Mark Curran, M.D., FACOG


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