Permethrin and Ticks

Permethrin is both a drug and an insecticide, and it may be a candidate for the next “wonder drug.” It’s the synthetic form of an insecticide produced by the chrysanthemum flower.

As a medicine, it is used to treat scabies and lice.

As an insecticide, it is used to kill mosquitoes and/or prevent bites.

New research from the CDC suggests that clothes treated with Permethrin can prevent tick bites. Given the number of diseases that ticks are known to transmit, that’s a big deal.(1) The CDC findings are supported by a study at the University or Rhode Island, which found that people wearing sneakers treated with Permethrin were 73% less likely to be bitten by a tick than those wearing untreated sneakers.(4)

The chemical disrupts neurons in insects, basically making them unable to function. While that might raise the obvious question — if it does that to insects, is there a risk to the human brain? — the chemical has been around since 1973 and is on the World Health Organization’s list of Essential Medicines — those that are both extremely effective and safe to humans.


  1. Robert Prose, Nicole E Breuner, Tammi L Johnson, Rebecca J Eisen, Lars Eisen. Contact Irritancy and Toxicity of Permethrin-Treated Clothing for Ixodes scapularis, Amblyomma americanum, and Dermacentor variabilis Ticks (Acari: Ixodidae). Journal of Medical Entomology, 2018; DOI: 10.1093/jme/tjy062
  2. Entomological Society of America. “Tick bite protection: New CDC study adds to the promise of permethrin-treated clothing: Lab tests show germ-carrying ticks can’t move properly after contact with treated garments.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 May 2018. <>


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