Deccan Chronicle

Mosquito repellents have fatal consequences

Deccan Chronicle.| Anjali Kochhar

Published on: April 27, 2023 | Updated on: April 27, 2023
A man died in Gurgaon, India, after over spraying mosquito repellent in his room. According to reports, he died of suffocation. (Representational Image)

A man died in Gurgaon, India, after over spraying mosquito repellent in his room. According to reports, he died of suffocation. (Representational Image)

Mosquitoes are among the deadliest creatures on the planet, carrying diseases such as dengue, malaria, and chikungunya. According to the World Health Organisation, India reports 15 million cases of malaria each year, with 19,500–20,000 deaths.

Fatal accidents

A man died in Gurgaon, India, after over spraying mosquito repellent in his room. According to reports, he died of suffocation.

In another case, six people suffocated after a mosquito coil fell on a bedsheet in the Shastri Park area of northeast Delhi. "The toxic fumes caused inmates to lose consciousness and later die due to suffocation," Joy Tirkey, DCP for the Northeast District, said in a statement.

A 14-month-old boy died after ingesting liquid mosquito repellent while playing at his home in Nashik. When his parents noticed what had happened, they rushed him to a private hospital but the child could not be saved, the police said.

These incidents emphasise how crucial it is to use insect repellents carefully and in accordance with instructions. According to Dr Deepak Jain, founder of The Fragrance People, "the most common ingredient in mosquito repellents is DEET, which can cause skin irritation, rashes, seizures, and breathing difficulties." Referring to certain studies, Dr Jain linked the use of DEET-based mosquito repellents to neurological problems such as seizures, especially in children. Other potential health risks include respiratory problems and liver damage, he noted.

It is critical to follow some dos and don’ts when using insect repellents.

First, read and follow the instructions on the label carefully.

  • Avoid using excessive amounts of mosquito repellent. Take care not to use it in indoor spaces which are not properly ventilated.
  • Avoid spraying mosquito repellents directly on the skin – instead, spray them on surfaces.
  • Be cautious when using mosquito repellents around children and pets, as they may be more sensitive to the chemicals. Even the stick-on patches have side effects.
  • If adverse reactions occur, such as skin irritation or breathing difficulties, seek medical attention immediately.
  • Store mosquito repellents in a safe place out of reach of children and away from sources of heat or flame.

Natural alternatives

  • Mosquito nets can be used over beds or windows to keep the vectors out.
  • Burning camphor and incense sticks could be effective too. However, it is crucial to ensure that the room is well-ventilated.
  • Applying neem oil to exposed skin can repel mosquitoes. Citronella oil too is a natural mosquito repellent that is safe for use on skin and clothing. They work by masking the scent that attracts mosquitoes to human skin.
  • Planting tulsi or holy basil in your garden or keeping a pot indoors can also help repel mosquitoes. Planting marigold flowers around the house or keeping a vase of them indoors can have the same result.
  • Essential oils like lavender and peppermint, and sachets of dried lavender and peppermint can be placed around the house to keep away mosquitoes.

Doctor’s explain


Repellents contain toxic gases

In any form, be it as coils, electric machines containing liquid vaporizer or skin creams, the insect repellents can have cumulative adverse effect on health if used for a long time, say years or for long hours at a stretch. The repellents contain toxic gases like carbon monoxide. If inhaled for several hours in a closed environment, say a small room without any ventilation or windows, it can cause suffocation, have harmful effect on the lungs and if the gases get dissolved in the blood and circulate to the heart, there are chances of carbon monoxide poisoning. People can suffocate and fall unconscious."

"Especially vulnerable are those with pre-existing health issues such as asthmatic patients, those with COPD, cardiac and diabetic patients, pregnant women and those taking some kind of immune-suppressant drugs," adds Dr Jeethender.

"The best and safest option is to use mosquito nets and sleep in a well-ventilated room and taking measures to prevent water stagnation in and around the house, which is conducive to mosquito breeding. Anti-larval sprays can be used to destroy mosquito larvae," advised the doctor.

-- Dr K Jeethender Jain, senior cardiologist from Yashoda Hospital

Long term exposure causes allergies

Mosquito repellents contain active chemical ingredient called DEET, though not very dangerous, but their long term over-exposure has been found to cause headache, skin and eye-irritation, allergies and rashes, sore throat, nausea, dizziness. Moreover, though people may be unaware of the reason, they have also complained of lack of concentration or inability to focus, when exposed to repellents continuously for about seven to eight hours in a closed room at office or home."

"Though not yet proved but some studies indicate a long-term effect like asthma and respiratory complications due to repellents. The mosquito coil smoke contains odourless carbon monoxide and can be suffocating and pose a health hazard if it circulates in the blood. Smoke from too many coils in a room is also a source of air pollution."

-- Dr P Saketha Reddy, general physician

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