Nootkatone: A New Weapon to Struggle Insect-borne Ailments


SEATTLE, Washington – The United States has taken significant action, both domestically and internationally, to combat vector-borne disease (VBD) like Zika, West Nile, malaria, dengue, and more. From the president’s malaria initiative to frequent mosquito net donations, the U.S. continues to provide foreign aid to populations affected by insect-borne diseases. Nootkatone is a new chemical that could help the world better fight insect-borne diseases.

Insect-borne diseases

Insect-borne diseases make up 17% of infectious diseases worldwide and cause around 700,000 deaths annually. Although many developed countries are providing assistance in the fight against VBDs, controlling the spread has proven difficult. In order to successfully combat insect-borne diseases worldwide, a more nuanced approach must be followed. Fortunately, a promising chemical called nootkatone could hit the global market in the next few years and become an important tool in combating VBDs.

Global answer

To combat insect-borne diseases, experts agree that an effective global response requires international collaboration and collaboration. This response needs to go beyond treating patients and controlling insects, including prevention strategies and strengthening public health infrastructure.

Despite the international attention paid to the subject, insect-borne diseases have resurfaced in recent decades. There are many factors that made this resurgence possible:

  • Inadequate public health infrastructure
  • Unprecedented population growth in developing countries
  • Urbanization and increased population density
  • Globalization and increased travel
  • Warmer global temperatures that provide a more hospitable environment for insects
  • Lack of sanitation such as sewage and waste management
  • Focus on killing adult mosquitoes as opposed to prevention and
  • Insect resistance to insecticides and repellants

To better combat insect-borne diseases, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a plan for its global vector control response in 2017, which will last until 2030. There are many aspects to this plan, including community-wide insecticide spraying, drainage or treatment of standing water, and use of insecticide-treated bed nets. Another WHO recommendation is that people in regions affected by insect-borne diseases use topical repellants for personal protection.

Nootkatone: A topical repellent

There are many personal repellants on the market of which the products containing the chemicals DEET or picaridin are the most effective. The problem with some of these chemicals is that insects, especially mosquitoes, build up resistance to these repellants. However, in August 2020, the EPA approved a new chemical called nootkatone for use in repellants.

There are many properties of nootkatone that make it different and more effective than other repellants. In contrast to many other repellants and pesticides, nootkatone is obtained naturally and is non-toxic to humans and other mammals. This could be especially attractive to people who avoid synthetic repellants.

In addition, nootkatone does not lose its effectiveness after a few hours on the skin, as is the case with many other natural repellants. After all, the chemical has a pleasant citrus scent that might make it more desirable to many people.

Nootkatone’s potential

Nootkatone is not a magic potion that will eradicate diseases like malaria, but it could play an important role in the fight against insect-borne diseases. Since it comes from cedar and grapefruit, making nootkatone defense sprays could be very affordable. This means the chemical can be bought cheaply and used by overseas aid projects like the President’s Malaria Initiative to fight insect-borne diseases internationally.

Also, because nootkatone is non-toxic, it can be used in a number of ways. Experts talk about its possible use in bath soaps or to treat insect repellent nets around beds. With the EPA just given the go-ahead for approval, nootkatone will likely be used in products by 2022 at the earliest.

Nootkatone’s EPA approval is an important step in the fight against insect-borne diseases. While the use of personal repellants is just one tool of many in combating insect-borne diseases, it could be critical due to the increased resistance of insects to repellants.

– Alanna Jaffee
Photo: Flickr

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