Is this the Secret to Keeping Zika Mosquitoes Away?

zika mosquitoes

The key to keeping Zika mosquitoes at bay has emerged just in time for the Olympics in Brazil — and it comes from an unlikely source.

Sixteen years ago, Todd Wichmann was a chemical engineer for multinational Procter & Gamble, when he decided to leave the group to start his very own USDA certified organic cleaning product company, Fit Organic.

Wichmann quickly garnered a great deal of success – particularly for his produce wash, which customers noted was also a great insect repellent.

Meanwhile, in 2014, the prevalence of the Zika virus first came to light in Brazil. More recently, the presence of the virus in pregnant women was linked to microcephaly in newborns, and as worry that the virus would spread began to mount, a variety of possible solutions, including the development of GMO mosquitoes, were posited to respond to what health officials are calling a global emergency.

Wichmann’s solution, however, is comparatively simple. He decided to begin testing his produce wash, and he ended up developing a spray that is particularly repellent to Zika mosquitoes and other dangerous mosquitoes.

“We tested against three (mosquito varieties): the West Nile mosquito, the yellow fever mosquito, which is also the Zika virus mosquito and the Malaria mosquito,” he explains. “And we showed zero bites for three hours against all three species of mosquito. And that’s when we really knew we had something.”

After finishing development in May, Fit Organic produced 50,000 bottles of the mosquito repellent in July, which was quickly endorsed by Rio Olympics participants Carly Patterson and Jacob Dalton. While rival SC Johnson is the official supplier of bug repellent to the Rio games, with its Off! brand, Fit Organic is seeing enormous success with its new product. Even after doubling its staff, the company can’t keep up with the demand for the repellent.

But what’s particularly interesting about this spray, especially when compared to Off!, is that it’s all-natural and completely devoid of DEET. Its two main ingredients are organic Nepalese lemongrass and organic oleic acid, both of which are natural mosquito repellents. The development of the product may change the future of the spread of Zika virus, or at least reduce its impact.

“We’re actually going to save lives,” Wichmann said of the discovery. “I mean, we could help save babies from birth defects. So I wouldn’t use the word exciting. It’s just very, very satisfying.”

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Mosquito repellent image via Shutterstock

Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.