7 On Your Side: Consumer Reports suggests best insect sprays

The Zika outbreak continues to dominate the news, and with no vaccine for the virus and no drug to treat Zika infections, it has become devastatingly clear that avoiding mosquito bites is essential.

The Zika virus has spread to more than 40 countries in the western hemisphere. Other diseases including West Nile and Lyme are already common throughout the country.

Several natural insect repellents offer little protection against mosquitoes that carry dangerous viruses.

Consumer Reports has advice on the best insect repellents to stay safe this summer.

Consumer Reports' Health Editor, Jeneen Interlandi, says Zika isn't the only insect-borne threat this summer.

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"The dengue, chikungunya and West Nile viruses are also spread by mosquitoes. And tick-borne illnesses, Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are becoming more and more common," explained Interlandi.

Consumer Reports tests insect repellents and says not all products provide the same level of protection.

Testers looked at 16 insect repellents with a range of active ingredients to check for their effectiveness at repelling bites from the Aedes mosquito that can carry Zika and chikungunya and the Culex mosquito known to spread West Nile virus.

The lab also tested the repellents against deer ticks, which can carry Lyme and other diseases.

While choosing a natural or plant-oil-based insect repellent instead of one containing DEET might seem like a good idea, Consumer Reports found otherwise.

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"Five out of the six that we tested lasted only an hour and a half or even less against the Aedes mosquito, which is of course the one that carries the Zika virus," said Interlandi.

The exception, Repel 30% Lemon Eucalyptus, was able to ward off Aedes mosquitoes for seven hours.

Others that did well in Consumer Reports tests are Sawyer 20% Picaridin and Ben's 30% DEET Tick and Insect Wilderness formula.

When used properly, most of these products are safe for children and all are safe for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.

In response to Consumer Reports' concerns about natural insect repellents, the Natural Products Association trade group says some plant oils do work and some people want alternatives to DEET.

Consumer Reports is published by Consumers Union. Both Consumer Reports and Consumers Union are not-for-profit organizations that accept no advertising. Neither has any commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site.

(All Consumer Reports Material Copyright 2014. Consumers Union of U.S. Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

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