Study finds that Insect Shield thwarts ticks

New study by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that Insect Shield fabrics, treated with insecticide permethrin, repel ticks.
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Sign at a beach warning of ticks

Lyme disease has become a national epidemic and Insect Shield is one brand working to protect people when they're outdoors.

Outdoor brands who partner with Insect Shield have new evidence to boast about.

A recently-released study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that clothing treated with insecticide permethrin really does deter ticks, including those that carry Lyme disease and other serious illnesses.

ExOfficio, Outdoor Research, Toad & Co., Royal Robbins, BUFF, ENO, Orvis, Polarmax, Sea To Summit, and more are already leveraging Insect Shield.

“I think we all knew that Insect Shield worked, even though we never had formal government confirmation,” said Shelley Dunbar, co-owner of Sea To Summit. “The new study will be another selling point to our retailers because ticks are just part of the landscape of people getting outside.”

Brian Thompson, ExOfficio's vice president of product development and design, said the study backs what the brand already believed, and he hopes it will raise awareness among customers about bug-borne diseases and products that protect them. 

When people head outdoors, Thompson hopes that by wearing ExOfficio's BugsAway line, they don't give their clothing a second thought.

"While the increase in bug-borne diseases worldwide is certainly worrying, we are encouraged to see increasing media attention on issue itself, as well as discussion of the ways consumers can protect themselves," Thompson said. "This study in particular is very encouraging and supports the studies we and our partners at Insect Shield have conducted to demonstrate the success of the product. We’re hopeful that this study will help raise consumer awareness of InsectShield as a safe and effective addition to their essential outdoor gear."

Published in the Journal of American Entomology on May 24, the study shows that clothing treated with permethrin, a synthetic form of insect deterrent derived from the chrysanthemum flower, repels three types of ticks.

In summary, researchers found that the pests fell off fabric oriented at a 45-degree angle, and also became immobilized and unable to bite after touching treated clothing for up to five minutes.

“We are hopeful that this new information will work to further educate a much broader consumer about the effectiveness of permethrin-treated clothing and gear,” said Janine Robertson, spokeswoman for Insect Shield. “Currently, permethrin awareness is much greater among outdoor enthusiasts and those who work daily in tick-risk areas, yet it needs to become commonly used on an everyday basis by individuals involved in their normal activities.”

The CDC, The World Health Organization, National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, The American Academy of Family Physicians, and The Public Health Agency of Canada recommend insect-repellant apparel with 0.5 percent permethrin and permethrin treatments.

In addition to partnering with brands, Insect Shield encourages people to send in their clothes for treatment. Customers can send in one item at a time ($9.95) or a whole package ($74.95), and the repellency is said to last through 70 launderings.

The government agency’s findings add to the depth of science that has long existed.

Thomas Mather, director of the University of Rhode Island's Center for Vector-Borne Disease and its TickEncounter Resource Center, was not involved in the study, but conducted his own in 2011 using Insect Shield garments.

In his study, subjects wore treated and untreated summer clothes—shorts, T-shirts, socks, and shoes—and watched a 2-hour movie while pathogen-free ticks crawled on their bodies. The people wearing treated clothing had fewer live ticks by the end of the movie.

But despite results that permethrin works, Mather is puzzled by the people who have the information but still don’t apply the technology.

“If there’s more evidence that permethrin-treated clothing works, the hope is that many more people will use it,” Mather said.

As Lyme disease has become a national epidemic, there is more discussion about the abundance of the pests and the ways people can protect themselves.

“The outdoor industry has the opportunity to help broaden awareness about tick bite prevention and solutions and potentially save many from the agony of contracting Lyme or other tick-borne illnesses,” Robertson said. “There is a tremendous opportunity to improve public health and positively impact the quality of life for millions of people, which is why we are so passionate about our technology.”

Now we know for sure: ticks don't stand a chance.