NCEZID Innovations: Preventing Bug Bites

Finding an Unlikely Ingredient to Prevent Insect and Tick Bites


Virtually everyone is vulnerable to vector-borne diseases, spread by infected insects and ticks. These vector-borne diseases can be difficult to prevent and control, particularly since vaccines are available for only a few.

West Nile virus, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever—and now, Zika—are some of the more well-known diseases spread by infected insects or ticks in the United States.

Dengue virus, a major health problem in Puerto Rico, infects as many as 400 million worldwide each year and can be deadly. Many regions are experiencing vector-borne outbreaks for the first time as global travel and urbanization increases. Preventing bites from insects and ticks is vital to stopping the spread of vector-borne diseases, and more prevention methods are needed.


NCEZID scientists have found a natural ingredient that repels and kills mosquitoes, ticks, and other pests. The ingredient is a chemical compound called nootkatone that, oddly enough, gives grapefruit its smell. Nootkatone is found in Alaska yellow cedar trees, some herbs and citrus fruits, and has long been used in many products with a citrus smell. CDC scientists have found that nootkatone can be used to kill and repel the type of mosquitoes that can spread Zika, Yellow Fever, Dengue, and Chikungunya viruses.

Developing insect repellents and insecticides that use nootkatone would be beneficial for a couple of reasons. It appears to work differently than available insecticides and could help fight mosquitoes that are resistant to existing insecticides. Furthermore, nootkatone could be used in soaps, sprays, and lotions, which would expand insect repellent options. CDC is providing funding to help advance the development of nootkatone as a new repellent and insecticide, which is being developed by CDC collaborator, Evolva, Inc.

Bottom Line Up Front:

CDC has found an efficient insect repellent for mosquitoes and ticks in an unlikely source.