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Each spring, the aisles at Target and Walmart start to fill up with patio furniture and accessories—all intended to create a sacred outdoor oasis.
Prominent among those items is an array of citronella candles. These candles represent the smell of summer and everyone knows they keep mosquitoes at bay. Or do they?
A new study out of New Mexico State University tested 11 types of repellents against Aedes aegypti mosquitoes—also known as the little buggers that carry Zika, yellow fever, dengue and other diseases.
In an effort to find out what worked best, these researchers created a backyard scenario in a lab. Using real humans as bait (I can’t imagine volunteering for this job!), scientists tracked the number of mosquitoes that went after the human for each repellent used. In total, they tested five sprays, five wearable devices and a citronella candle.
And, guess what didn’t do so well? Yep, the citronella candle along with the majority of the wearable devices. In fact, the study concluded that the efficacy of these items was like using no protection at all. Yikes!
The only wearable device that seemed to perform well in the study was the OFF! Clip-On, which features the chemical repellent Metofluthrin.
As a result, Stacy Rodriguez, laboratory manager at the Molecular Vector Physiology Laboratory at NMSU, cautions consumers. “While the labels of many products make strong claims, some products simply don’t work,” she says.
The good news is the five spray-on repellents tested showed more promising results. The best of those contain PMD (lemon eucalyptus) and DEET.
This echoes the findings of a 2015 study conducted by the same lab that found that DEET products strongly repel mosquitoes. A 2008 study by the University of California-Davis suggests this is because mosquitoes intensely dislike the smell of the chemical repellent.
Rodriguez and her colleagues encourage consumers to seek out these more effective repellents to avoid mosquito bites.
“At a time where vector-borne disease like Zika is a real threat, the most egregious danger to the consumer is the false comfort that some repellents give them protection against Ae. aegypti when they actually offer none,” they write.
So, go ahead and buy that cute, fresh-smelling candle. But do it for ambiance, not protection.