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Health Team

Clothes can turn off insects

Posted April 8, 2011 2:15 p.m. EDT
Updated April 8, 2011 6:17 p.m. EDT

— A new type of clothing made by a North Carolina company acts as an insect repellent.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are testing the effectiveness of the clothing, which is already sold in many outdoor recreation supply stores.

"We are particularly interested in outdoor workers, so there are a lot of state employees, forest rangers, park rangers, who are exposed to ticks all the time," epidemiology professor Steven Meshnick said.

Meschnick teamed up with Greensboro-based Insect Shield to put the company's product to the test.

A small pilot study involved North Carolina Division of Water Quality workers who test water purity in tick and mosquito-infested swamps.

"In fact, there were 99 percent fewer work-related tick bites," Meschnick said. "The only tick bite that a worker got who was wearing the clothing was on his wrist, which is a really strange place for ticks to bite."

A larger, two-year study is testing the clothing on park and forestry rangers.

The clothing works because the repellent permethrin is embedded in the material. That chemical is the same ingredient found in many insect-repellent lotions and sprays, but those products need to be reapplied frequently.

"The good thing about this Insect Shield clothing is it lasts for 70 washes," Meschnick said.

Tests show that very little of the insect repellent in the clothing is absorbed into the skin.

The material has been lab tested against all types of ticks, which potentially carry a variety of crippling or even life-threatening diseases. Researchers said it's 

"Ticks not only are killed by it, but they're also repelled by it," Meschnick said.

He said the clothing is also effective against other biting insects like mosquitoes, which can also transmit disease.