Insect repellent sales soar with Zika fears

The Zika virus isn’t yet on the U.S. mainland but that hasn’t stopped fearful consumers from making a run on insect repellent.

A new study by 1010data, a data analysis firm, showed that between February and April of this year, sales of mosquito repellent in the U.S. soared a whopping 323 percent over what was sold during the same months in 2015. In dollar terms, that means U.S. consumers spent $1.4 million on repellent during those three months last year. This year they’ve spent $5.9 million, according to the study.

Companies that make bug spray have responded accordingly, ramping up production of repellents, but also raising prices.

According to 1010data, prices rose from an average of $10.28 to $12.66. Other studies have found similar trends. A report by the consumer data-marketing firm IRI, that showed sales of Off!, by the SC Johnson company, have climbed 47 percent over the same period as 2015, according to Adweek. The company has dramatically increased production of repellent and donated more than 60,000 bottles of it to fight the Zika outbreak in the U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico which is experiencing a significant problem with the virus.

Zika is primarily spread by two types of mosquitoes, the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, both found in Georgia. Most people have no symptoms once infected. That stealth quality has proven devastating to hundreds of pregnant women and their fetuses in the Americas. Zika causes microcephaly, a birth defect that leaves babies with cognitive, sight and hearing disorders. In most cases the babies are born with dramatically undersized heads. The virus also causes miscarriages and still births. There is no treatment for Zika once a person acquires it, nor is there a vaccine to prevent it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health departments have advised pregnant women to wear mosquito repellent this summer, even though the virus hasn’t yet reached the continental U.S. The number of pregnant women in the U.S. who got Zika while traveling to an affected area has surged. During a board meeting of the Georgia Public Health Department earlier this month, the alarm was sounded again about the threat of the virus.

“I want to see every pregnant woman in Georgia wear mosquito repellent this season and into the next,” said Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, an ob-gyn and state public health commissioner. “We don’t want to take any chances.”

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