Defence scientists at Porton Down are testing a mosquito repellent to see how effective it may be in combating the coronavirus strain responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.
For British personnel in certain regions, repellent can be a vital addition to kit, from troops on jungle warfare exercises in Belize, to places like RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.
Scientists are questioning whether a particular brand, sold widely in the UK, could fight the strain.
The active ingredient - Citriodiol - is a natural insect repellent extracted from Eucalyptus.
It is known to be a barrier against the SARS 1 virus, and effective at killing particular types of coronavirus too.
The MOD is reportedly buying stocks of the repellent to issue to the military’s 20,000 strong COVID Support Force, including those on the frontline conducting tests and driving supplies to the NHS.
Some MPs say they want more information about the number of troops being given the spray, and how effective it is.
Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, Tobias Ellwood, said: “The entire nation is doing its best to get through this difficult period and it’s good to see Porton Down scientists contributing to securing vaccines and any form of protection that we can have against coronavirus.
“But to learn that our armed forces are being given a form of insect repellent with the instructions, if you like, that this is to be worn in order to protect you in some way from the virus, I’m asking for more information as to how this has come about,” he added.
Jamie Stone, Liberal Democrat defence spokesperson, said: “If it does work and if this is a good decision then, absolutely, all plaudits to the MOD, well done. It then poses the question for the government, well why on earth isn’t this stuff being issued to frontline staff in the NHS and care services and councils?”
In a statement, the MOD said Citriodol is known to have anti-viral properties:
“Its utility for protecting against COVID-19 is therefore being explored by the Ministry of Defence as an additional protective measure for personnel working on the response. Further work is required to determine its full effectiveness, acquisition and distribution.”
The MOD has said there has not yet been a widespread rollout of the spray and said it was one of several enhanced force health protection measures being used during the crisis.
Cover image: PA.