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The first new insect repellent approved in 11 years smells like grapefruit

A new kind of insect repellent is about to hit drug store shelves – and it smells like grapefruit.

On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it had approved a new ingredient called nootkatone, which repels and kills mosquitoes and ticks. The naturally occurring ingredient that is responsible for the characteristic scent of grapefruit was discovered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and developed into an insecticide. It is also found in Alaskan yellow cedar and is widely used in the cosmetics industry to make perfumes and colognes.

By registering the new ingredient, the EPA recognizes that it is safe and effective, and officially gives companies the go-ahead to use nootkatone to develop new products for humans and pets.

“Studies show that products formulated from the new ingredient nootkatone can repel and kill ticks, mosquitoes and a variety of other biting pests,” the EPA said in a statement. Diseases carried by these insects include Lyme disease, malaria, and the Zika virus.

The CDC worked with Evolva, a biotech company, to develop and research the ingredient.

Studies have shown that nootkatone can work just as well as other insect repellants like DEET. According to the EPA, protection against insect bites with nootkatone is expected to take several hours.

The introduction of a new chemical – the first since 2009 – can also help combat resistance to many of the common insect repellants that insects see today. (If insects develop resistance to an ingredient, the product is less effective.)

Mosquitoes and tick-borne diseases are a growing threat in the United States. The number of tick-borne diseases doubled between 2004 and 2016, according to the CDC.

“I think it’s an important addition to our repellant arsenal,” said Dr. Brian Fallon, director of the Lyme Disease and Tick-borne Disease Research Center at Columbia University in New York City, on nootkatone.

Companies interested in developing products containing nootkatone can submit them for EPA review. Products could be available to consumers from 2022.

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