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Zika or DEET: Pregnant women mull which is lesser of two evils

The first cases of locally transmitted Zika virus in the U.S. this month present a clear concern for pregnant women, with the virus’s connection to birth defects now well-established.

Far less is known about the potential long-term risks of mosquito-repellent chemicals, particularly DEET, which doctors would normally advise pregnant women to avoid.

DEET is a pesticide as well as an ingredient in many popular insect repellents. It is considered the best at warding off bug bites. Government recommendations state that if, used according to instructions, DEET repellents are both safe and effective, even for pregnant women.

But very little research has been done into the effects of a repeated low dose of DEET — the popular name for N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide or diethyltoluamide — on the skin, with long-term follow-up, experts say.

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