Ticks and resistance to DEET

My wife and I just returned from a camping trip to Bankhead National 
Forest in Alabama. While we were there we had a continuing problem with tick 
bites in spite of using DEET based repellant. We used both Deep Woods Off, 
and an extra strength Cutter product during the week. Even so, I was pulling 
off two or three ticks a day. I am really bothered by this because my nephew 
and his daughter had to spend an unplanned night in the woods due to a 
mishap while four wheeling. They both were bitten by ticks and contracted 
Lyme Disease.

I am wondering if you are aware of any tick populations developing 
resistance to DEET, or of factors that might be reducing the effectiveness 
of DEET based repellant. Any advise you could offer on how to more 
effectively protect myself from ticks while camping and hiking would be much 
appreciated. Thanks.


Welcome to IdentifyUS, for describing your encounters with ticks, and for your excellent questions.

If you've not already visited our web resources on reducing risks associated with ticks, I direct you to:

Repellents formulated with DEET can and do offer measurable protection against ticks and tick-borne disease, but many ticks will still attach and feed despite your use of DEET. A far better strategy would be to apply to clothing tick repellents / acaracides formulated with permethrin as the active ingredient. Permethrin is a synthetic analog of an extract from chrysanthemum flowers. It is irritating to ticks (and mosquitoes and diverse other pests) and actually will kill ticks that wander over several inches of treated fabric. When used properly, this method can dramatically reduce your risk of being fed upon by ticks, and by extension, your risk of tick-borne infection.

It is important to use permethrin products carefully, correctly and as per the label directions. The product should be applied to clothing and shoes/boots, not to skin. Generally, it is best to spray down the clothes before donning them. So, place the items to be treated on the driveway or hang them on a clothesline and spray them down thoroughly as directed. Allow the product to dry. Once dry, the permethrin binds tenaciously to most fabrics and will survive and remain active after dozens of wash and dry cycles. Permethin applied in this manner will be toxic to ticks, but it should not pose any measurable risk to you. Note that you must avoid contact of the product with cats, however.

Permethrin will offer the best protection against ticks if you apply it to trousers, socks and shoes, and if the trouser legs are tucked into socks or shoes. That may not make a pleasing fashion statement, but it may be the means to keep you from having to battle Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections.

You can treat clothing yourself quite inexpensively. Permethrin based repellents are readily available in many camping stores, as over-the-counter products in many drug stores, and also online. A single can of the product may cost less than $10 and be sufficient to treat several items of apparel. For those who prefer to have others apply the repellent, you can purchase clothing pretreated with permethrin.

So, continue to enjoy the great outdoors, but go forewarned and forearmed with information and protection. Bring along your camera-equipped smart phone as well. Should you encounter a tick while hiking - or a bed bug while staying - just snap a picture of the presumed pest and upload it to http://idmybug.mobi/ for our rapid, independent, confidential and expert evaluation.

I hope this reply is informative, timely, and of value. Happy trails. 

Richard Pollack, PhD 

Customer Support Team 
IdentifyUS, LLC