USDA Develops Clothing to Protect U.S. Troops from Insects

USDA scientists are helping out military personnel deployed overseas by outfitting soldiers with clothing that repels or kills disease-transmitting mosquitos and sand flies.

As part of the Deployed War-Fighter Protection Research Program, scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Gainesville, Fla., and other ARS laboratories are collaborating with U.S. Department of Defense personnel to improve personal protection for troops. The researchers are also developing public health insecticides and devising improved application technologies to kill insects. ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.

ARS chemist Ulrich “Uli” Bernier, and other researchers at the Gainesville center work with military personnel on several projects, including evaluating the effectiveness and assessing the quality of combat uniforms that have been factory-treated with permethrin in order to see how the chemical repels or kills insects.

Bernier developed a bite protection test, which involves placing a permethrin-treated uniform sleeve into a cage of mosquitos in order to determine how well those uniforms will help protect the soldiers against insects. Currently, 65 percent of the uniform constructions and compositions that have already been created have been tested. The treated fabrics are tested directly after the factory treatment and after being laundered between 20 and 50 times.

Bernier recently verified bite protection testing on Army combat uniforms constructed of a more durable fire-resistant fabric. Alternative fabrics were needed because the original fire-resistant uniform material tore too easily, reducing its ability to protect against insects.

For additional and longer protection, scientists are designing new products to augment uniforms. ARS chemist Kamal Chauhan at the Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, Md., and Bernier have created an attachable repellent-treated band that can be worn on a sleeve or collar to help protect exposed skin. Preliminary evaluations indicate that the band comprising novel-high vapor pressure compounds may also be used against pyrethroid-resistant mosquitoes and bed bugs.

Chauhan also has filed a patent for his latest invention—a disposable, reversible band-aid that offers short-term protection against biting insects. This new product may potentially be used in applications for recreational activities and to ward off insects that pester pets and livestock.

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