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Americans Are Buying Up Insect Repellent Amid Zika Worries

Zika headlines have Americans freaked out about mosquito bites, and that’s good news for companies that make bug repellant.
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Zika headlines have Americans freaked out about mosquito bites, and that’s good news for companies that make bug repellent.

Shoppers are stocking up on various types of mosquito repellent and are expected to add more to their carts as spring sets in and mosquito season reaches its peak.

“There are brands that are selling insect repellent garments to ward off concerns about Zika,” said Marshal Cohen, retail market research analyst at NPD Group. “This trend will likely pick up as the weather gets more into mosquito season.”

Sara Skirboll, director of public relations at RetailMeNot backed up this prediction, saying that about 58 percent of Americans plan to purchase some type of insect repellent — whether in the form of spray, candles, or protective clothing — to ward off mosquitoes and help ease Zika fears.

Read More: Five Things You Need to Know About the Zika Virus

Where consumers are located plays a driving role in how they shop for mosquito repellents.

RetailMeNot's research shows that 54 percent of people in the Midwest and 53 percent of people in the South purchased insect repellent to reduce the risk of contracting Zika, compared to 45 percent of those in the Northeast and 46 percent of those in western states.

“Brands like OFF! and Cutter bug spray in particular have seen a surge in demand for their products, and are in turn increasing their production. In the same vein, there’s been an increase in interest for accessories and clothing that repel mosquitoes and other bugs,” Skirboll said.

Lesser-known brands like Bugband, which offer DEET-free repellents, are also seeing a substantial upswing in sales.

“BugBand sales have doubled since this time last year,” said Denise Ritter-Davis, BugBand spokesperson, adding that Zika virus had “definitely impacted BugBand sales.”

The active ingredient in BugBand's products is geraniol. The CDC recommends that people buy products containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), or IR3535.

Mosquito prevention and extermination services are likewise seeing an increase in demand.

“We have seen a significant boost in business in Florida and Texas already, over two times the volume we were expecting before people became aware of Zika,” said Kevin Wilson, CEO of Mosquito Joe, which provides mosquito control treatment to residential and commercial customers.

Read More: Zika Fears Prompt Feds to Ship Blood to Puerto Rico

Though Zika is a primary force behind spiking sales of mosquito repellents, the relatively mild winter that much of the country has been experiencing is also a contributing factor. Mosquitoes are thriving in the unusually warmer temperatures, and just as they would in summer, consumers are taking measures to protect themselves from bites.

The U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Samoa have had Zika transmissions, though there have been no active transmissions yet in the states.

Skirboll noted that travel-associated cases of the Zika virus have been reported in 32 U.S states, and that "as the climates of southern states like Florida and Texas start to echo that of the Caribbean, we expect to see a rise in sales of all bug repellent products."

Target said its mosquito repellant selling season began much earlier than usual.

“We are already seeing sales due to a relatively mild winter,” Amy Goetz, a spokesperson at Target, said in an email. She added that, however, the increase in demand for repellent is indeed mainly due to concern over Zika. To meet consumer demand, Target is making sure products are well displayed and easy to find.

“We are planning for a modest sales increase and [have] made bug spray/repellent a center point of the lawn and patio area in 1,400 stores beginning in March,” Goetz said. “We did this earlier than usual (standard is June) to meet guests’ needs as they prepare for spring break trips to warmer climates [and] pending seasonal needs and regional climates, we will make products like bug repellent more prevalent in the store to meet the needs of guests in that specific region.”

For now, retailers are more than prepared to meet consumer demand, but going forward into spring and summer, they may need to do more.

“I anticipate a lot of uncertainty and fear in Americans as we get into the warmer months,” said Emily Lord, executive director of Healthcare Ready. “I think reassuring the worried will be a major issue to address. There will also likely be an uptick in how many folks purchase bug spray, which may lead to spot shortages around the U.S.”

Shortages of mosquito repellent could certainly prompt more uncertainty and fear, but before breaking out into a preemptive sweat, consumers should know thy enemy — or, in other words, get acquainted with the facts of Zika and not freak out without reason.

Read More: New Dengue Vaccine May Form Basis for Zika Vaccine

Dr. Brian Levine, New York practice director for the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, points out that, as far as we know, the only people living on the U.S. mainland currently at risk for Zika are those traveling to affected areas, or those who have had sexual intercourse with someone who has recently been in that region.

“Unfortunately, retailers are aware that we have an international epidemic, and they have started capitalizing on the hysteria,” Levine said. “In fact, a quick search on Amazon for ‘Zika virus’ brings up over 20 pages of products.”

Which products should you choose from all those options if you’re worried about Zika? Levine says that all travelers should “utilize repellents that contain DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products which provide longer-lasting protection.”