Video: Fear keeps people from repelling mosquitoes

NBC News with Brian Williams
By Kevin Tibbles Correspondent
NBC News
updated 7/15/2005 3:27:08 PM ET 2005-07-15T19:27:08

At Ravinia Park north of Chicago, thousands gather each night, listening to the sounds of summer. But another summer sound often gets in the way — the buzz of mosquitoes.

The Bulgarelli family comes armed with repellent. For 50 years, recommended repellants have contained the chemical "DEET."

"DEET seems to be the only repellent that we're aware of that seems to keep the mosquitoes off," says Kathy Bulgarelli.

But there is worry.

"Well, the concerns are neurological problems and cancer, but that has never been shown to be the case," says Dr. Noah Scheinfeld, an assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University in New York. "But people are obviously afraid to use it."

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has now found just how afraid. Sixty percent of Americans shy away from any insect repellent, even when the mosquito-borne West Nile Virus is a serious threat.

The virus has now appeared in all 48 lower states. In the past two years, more than 12,000 cases and 350 deaths have been reported.

Faced with the resistance to DEET, the CDC is now adding two new recommended repellents.

"That's a lot of people going unprotected and that was part of our interest in giving people more options to use," says the CDC’s Emily Zielinski-Gutierrez.

One new repellent contains the chemical picaridin, which doctors say isn't sticky and doesn't irritate the skin.

The other is made from lemon eucalyptus oil.

At True Nature Foods in Chicago, many customers choose it.

"Bottom line, it's just your most natural insect repellent," says shopper Paula Companio.

The CDC's advice? Use some repellent and follow the directions.

"In the end, it takes about, you know, 10 seconds, to go ahead and put the repellant on and that's a trade off against the risk of really having your entire life affected by West Nile," says  Zielinski-Gutierrez.

That's why the CDC is providing new alternative weapons in the annual test of wills between man, woman, child and mosquito.

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