Pyrethroids are insecticides that are widely used for mosquito and tick control. They are synthetic versions of an insecticide called pyrethrin, which is derived from chrysanthemums.
You may have come into contact with pyrethroids because they are commonly used in chemical mosquito control.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that people treat their clothing with one common pyrethroid, permethrin, to avoid tick bites. All four pyrethroids (permethrin, cypermethrin, deltamethrin, and cyfluthrin) are used as pet flea medications and sprays for mosquitos, roaches, ticks and ants.
Permethrin can kill mosquitos and ticks and is thought to be safer than some alternatives such as organophosphates. Insect repellants like DEET are not pyrethroids.
An association with heart disease and death
If you have been in routine contact with pyrethroids, you may have some cause for concern. A recent study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine linked the pesticides to an increased risk of death from heart disease.
The researchers sorted through health information from over 2,000 American adults who provided urine samples to the U.S. National health and Nutrition Examination Survey between the years 1999 and 2002. Their average age was 43.
They tested the subjects for, among other things, 3-phenoxybenzoic acid (3PBA). This is a chemical marker indicating exposure to pyrethroids. They found that people with the highest concentrations of 3PBA were approximately three times as likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those with the lowest concentrations.
The scientists controlled for a variety of factors thought to increase cardiovascular disease risk, such as smoking, nutrition, education and income levels. However, it is possible they didn’t account for an unknown risk factor.
Therefore, this study determined that pyrethroids were associated with an increased cardiovascular disease risk but did not go so far as to say that pyrethroids cause cardiovascular disease.
What should you do if you have been exposed?
It’s too early to determine if pyrethroids are a defective product. It may be that the risk of insect-borne diseases is more serious than the risk of heart disease from pyrethroids. You should discuss your relative risk with your doctor and decide on the safest repellant or pesticide for your situation.
Further research may find, however, that the risk of cardiovascular disease from pyrethroids outweighs their value. Therefore, you should consider this additional risk when buying and using insecticide. Wear gloves and a mask when applying it and try to minimize your exposure.