UC Davis Researcher: What Repellents and Doses Are Best to Prevent Zika Virus

Feb 16, 2017

UC Davis Researcher: What Repellents and Doses Are Best to Prevent Zika Virus

Feb 16, 2017

If you're traveling to—or living in--a Zika virus-infested area, it's far better to use DEET rather than Picaridin and to use higher, rather than lower, doses of DEET because lower doses do not work well with older mosquitoes, newly published research from the University of California, Davis and Recife, Brazil, shows.

Chemical ecologist and mosquito researcher Walter Leal, distinguished professor in the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and his lab collaborated with scientists in Recife to ask “Does Zika Virus Infection Affect Mosquito Response to Repellents?”

The work, funded by the National Institutes of Health, was published Feb. 16 in Scientific Reports of the journal Nature. The researchers used mosquitoes originating from colonies reared by UC Davis medical entomologist Anthony Cornel and from colonies in Recife.

“We used assays mimicking the human arm to test the mosquitoes infected with the Zika virus,” Leal said, “and we asked whether the Zika infection affects mosquito response to repellents.” They tested DEET and Picaridin, considered the top two mosquito repellents. “We discovered that DEET works better than Picaridin against the southern house mosquito, Culex quinquefasciatus, and the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, whether infected or not.”

The researchers also found that old mosquitoes that already had a blood meal “were less sensitive to repellents,” said Leal, adding “It was not clear whether this was due to the virus, but mostly likely because of age. ”

 “Lower doses--normally used in commercial products--work well for young mosquitoes,” Leal said, “but the old ones are the dangerous ones because they may have had a blood meal infected with virus and there was enough time for the virus to replicate in the mosquito body.”

“The bottom line: to prevent bites of infected mosquitoes, higher doses of repellent are needed. The data suggest that 30 percent DEET should be used. Lower doses may repel nuisance young mosquitoes, but not the dangerous, infected, old females.”

Leal, a native of Brazil, collaborates with Rosangela Barbosa and Constancia Ayres of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ-PE), Recife, Brazil. The work with infected mosquitoes was conducted at FIOCRUZ-PE.  

Leal, Barbosa and Ayres co-authored the paper with Fangfang Zeng and Kaiming Tan, both of the Leal lab; and Rosângela M. R. Barbosa, Gabriel B. Faierstein, Marcelo H. S. Paiva, Duschinka R. D. Guedes,  and Mônica M. Crespo, all of Brazil.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that people traveling to or living in areas with Zika virus (ZIKV) outbreaks or epidemics adopt preventive measures, including the use of insect repellents, to reduce or eliminate mosquito bites. Prior to the Feb. 16 published research, it was not known whether the most widely repellents are effective against ZIKV-infected mosquitoes, “in part because of the ethical concerns related to exposing a human subject's arm to infected mosquitoes in the standard arm-in-cage assay,” the researchers pointed out.

They used a previously developed, human subject-free behavioral assay, which mimics a human subject to evaluate the top two recommended insect repellents.

Scientists isolated the Zika virus (ZIKV) nearly seven decades ago from a sentinel rhesus monkey while they were trying to unravel the cycle of sylvan yellow fever virus in Uganda..

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito (Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus). These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. The virus can also be sexually transmitted.
  • Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects.
  • There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
  • Local mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission has been reported in the continental United States.