Pret-a-Reporter

Can Mosquito-Repellent Clothes Really Combat Zika?

Jack Leonard/New Orleans Mosquito and Termite Control Board/Getty Images

There are several products on the market that claim to provide protection. Brilliant or b.s.?

Can you dress to protect yourself from Zika?

Just last week, mosquitos transmitting the Zika virus were found in Miami Beach, which prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue a travel advisory for pregnant women not to visit the area. A type of mosquito that carries the Zika virus also was found in Orange County, Calif., last Monday and a infant died from the mosquito-transmitted infection in Houston, Texas, earlier this month.

There currently is no treatment or vaccine available for the Zika infection, but some clothing companies are claiming they can offer prevention.

Nobitech touts its new athletic apparel line as being able to repel mosquitoes that may carry the Zika virus through its latest Skintex Technology, "the only apparel treatment approved by the EPA to repel mosquitoes using microencapsulation technology," according to press materials. Skintex Technology uses Permethrin, which works as a contact insect repellent.

"The thing that we do know is that Permethrin is a chemical that's essentially an insecticide; we know that if we treat clothing with that it stays in clothing for several weeks or months, depending on the number of washes, and that actually prevents mosquito bites," says Dr. Christopher Tymchuk, director of Global Health Pathway at UCLA Health Sciences.

Members of the U.S. men's and women's water polo team, the U.S. swim team and the U.S. triathlon team were among those at the Rio Olympics who have had their clothes treated by Nobitech's Skintex technology.

Another label that offers bug-repellent apparel is ExOffico. Its BugsAway styles incorporate Insect Shield repellent technology that lasts through 70 washes, according to ExOfficio's website. L.L. Bean also sells Permethrin-treated "No Fly Zone" clothes, and according to the company's rep, it's seen a double-digit growth in sales this year with its "No Fly Zone" items. ExOfficio also confirmed that it has seen a sales growth with its BugsAway apparel.

Despite the solutions that these items offer, it’s not 100 percent guaranteed.

"I think the challenge is, again, the clothing covers the parts of the body it covers, but your hands or face can still get bitten," says Tymchuk. "The people I know who travel for business, to have them avoid mosquitoes for malaria and other mosquito-borne illnesses, I usually have them Permethrin-treat their clothes."

According to Tymchuk, Permethrin can be applied on apparel either by spraying it on or soaking it in the chemical. "If sprayed, this needs to be done in the open air," he says, adding that the clothes need at least two hours to dry after being sprayed or soaked. Kits and bottle sprays for Permethrin can be found online at Amazon or REI.

Even if you wanted to cover up from head to toe (from the mosquito-net hats to insect shield tech socks), the problem, as Tymchuk points out, is that mosquitos carrying the viruses tend to be in warm areas, therefore making it hard to be completely covered while in the heat. "I recommend that people wear full-length clothing and hats if possible, but that also makes people pretty hot, so it's sort of finding that balance there," he says.

Clothing that has been treated with Permethrin is recommended by the CDC, says Dr. Benjamin Schwartz, deputy chief of the acute communicable disease control program at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, who notes that "it's important that on exposed skin, people use insect repellent like DEET with a registered effective ingredient because [Permethrin]-impregnated clothing will not necessarily protect you where the clothing is not."

Schwartz recommends repellents with EPA-registered ingredients, including DEET, Picaridin, IR3535 and oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE).

Since Aug. 10, the CDC cites 2,260 cases of those affected by the Zika virus in the U.S., with 529 of those instances involving pregnant women.

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