Enjoying the Great Outdoors

Walking in our national parks is good for the body and soul. It’s good exercise and can clear the mind. Yet every year as the weather gets warmer, health experts also warn us to protect ourselves from mosquito and tick-borne diseases, such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease.

Some of the precautions that can be taken include wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and socks; tucking shirts into pants and pants into socks to prevent insects from getting to the skin; wearing light-colored clothing to be able to see and remove ticks more easily; and staying indoors at sunrise and sunset when mosquitoes are most active. Another safeguard is to apply insect repellent. But which one should be used?

To help answer this question, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) in 2014 developed a new Repellency Awareness Graphic to make it easier for consumers to understand the repellency time for mosquitoes and ticks. The USEPA intends that the Repellency Awareness Graphic perform similar to the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) in educating consumers about sunscreen performance. Concessioners who sell insect repellents may have already noticed that some brands show the new Repellency Awareness Graphic, coming online in 2015.

The graphic is designed to specifically call out whether the product repels mosquitoes, ticks, or both; and the typical length of time that the product repels those insects (see Figures 1 and 2). The graphic is currently only used for insect repellents applied to skin. Repellents applied to animals or fabric, that are sprays, or that are spatial repellents (like coils and candles) are not covered by the graphic.

As use of the graphic is voluntary, not all insect repellents will have the graphic displayed. But the USEPA also has a search tool that helps determine which insect repellents protect against mosquitoes and ticks. The tool includes searchable fields including active ingredients, company name, and the USEPA registration number.

In choosing what insect repellents to sell, concessioners can work with NPS staff to determine what insect diseases are of most concern at the park, and then use the search tool and/or information found on the Repellency Awareness Graphic to decide what might be best to sell. It is also important to note that WASO IPM policy does not allow DEET repellents.

Concessioner staff can educate park visitors on what types of products might be preferable for use during their stay at the park to help avoid insect bites. Concessioner staff can support their claims by pointing to the Repellency Awareness Graphic (if it is on the product) and informing park visitors of the meaning of the graphic.

Let’s all welcome back spring and summer – but do it safely by protecting ourselves and park visitors from insect bites!

graphic illustrating how to repel mosquitos and ticks

Figure 1: Sample Repellency Awareness Graphic and its meaning.

graphic illustrating where the Awareness Graphic will be located on insect repellent

Figure 2: Consumers may see one of three version of the graphic depending on whether mosquitoes, ticks, or mosquitoes and ticks are repelled.