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  • Writer's pictureAlan Frischer, MD, MPH

Mosquitoes

If my wife and I relax out on our patio on a summer evening, and mosquitoes come around, she will end up covered with bites and I will likely have none. I have always assumed that this is because she is the sweeter person. Perhaps there is a more scientific reason?

Research shows that some people really are mosquito magnets. Mosquito bites can be more than merely irritating. They can get infected, and can pass on serious illnesses, including West Nile virus, dengue fever, Zika virus, and malaria.

Here are some reasons why some of us might be especially attractive:

  • Our genes. 285 genetic markers have been associated with mosquito bite frequency, itchiness, and size. This means a significant portion of your chance of getting bitten is determined by your genetics. Those with blood types O and B are the most appealing.

  • We smell. Mosquitoes can smell, and prefer some of us over others. When we sweat, our body emits chemicals in different amounts, including lactic acid, carboxylic acid, and ammonia. People who sweat a lot are bigger targets, and our skin’s particular microbiome adds to this appealing smell. Deodorant doesn’t change this, although a shower might reduce the quantity of the odors.

  • Carbon dioxide. Mosquitoes sense carbon dioxide, and the more we exhale, the more attractive we are. Larger people exhale more, so they are more likely to be bit. Because we exhale carbon dioxide from our nose and mouth, we are more likely to be bitten on the head. When we exercise, we give off even more heat and carbon dioxide.

  • Colors. Mosquitoes use their eyes to target their victim, and studies have shown that black, navy, blue or red clothing attracts mosquitoes. Mosquitoes were least attracted to white and gray. If you tend to get bit, don’t make it too easy for them; choose softer colors like pastels, beige, or white.

  • Bananas and beer. Diet likely has little impact on our appeal; however, the exceptions might be beer and bananas. In one study, significantly more mosquitoes flew toward those who had consumed a liter of beer. I feel certain that additional research will be conducted!

  • Being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mosquitoes are most active before sunset, and in the early morning before the sun has risen. If you are going for a run or are working outdoors, avoid these peak times.

  • Pregnancy. Mosquitoes are attracted to pregnant women. This is likely because pregnancy increases the metabolism, leading to more heat and carbon dioxide being emitted.

Mosquito repellent is quite effective. Check the label to look for approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA considers DEET, R3535, and picaridin to be safe. Natural mosquito repellents include rose geranium oil, thyme oil, clove oil, peppermint oil, coconut oil, and cedar oil.

Just think of how amazing the mosquito is. They have evolved to be fully equipped with sight, smell, carbon dioxide detection, and heat sensing in order to find their prey. But, like humans, they don’t want to work harder than necessary to find their food. While we can’t change our blood type, we can wear long sleeves, long pants, and light-colored clothing to become a harder target. We can remove any standing water from our property. We can select landscaping that repels mosquitoes (lavender, marigold, rosemary, basil, mint, and sage). Despite how amazing they are, let’s do our very best to avoid becoming their next meal.

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