Mosquitoes & You

For millions of years, the great outdoors has always been a battleground between humans and mosquitoes.  Technology has improved our ability to better enjoy the experience of being outside, but evolution has also made the mosquito a better hunter!  But there is no reason to surrender outright to this wily enemy during these summer months.  Understanding their behavior and preferences will help us to better enjoy being outside and less troubled by mosquitoes.

First off, mosquitoes do exhibit bloodsucking preferences, say the experts. “One in 10 people are highly attractive to mosquitoes,” reports Jerry Butler, Ph.D., professor emeritus at the University of Florida. But it’s not dinner they’re sucking out of you. Female mosquitoes – males do not bite people – need human blood to develop fertile eggs.

As you are probably aware, the #1 mosquito dinner bell is carbon dioxide. However, there are other attractants.  “People with high concentrations of steroids or cholesterol on their skin surface attract mosquitoes,” Butler told WebMD. That doesn’t necessarily mean that mosquitoes prey on people with higher overall levels of cholesterol, Butler explains. These people simply may be more efficient at processing cholesterol, the by-products of which remain on the skin’s surface.  So to make yourself less visible to the mosquitoes, relax more. When you pant from exertion, the smell of carbon dioxide from your heavy breathing draws them closer. So does the lactic acid from your sweat glands.

DEET-containing repellents are still the most widely used. Introduced in 1957, concentrations of 23.8% DEET (most formulas contain between 10% and 30%) protect wearers for about five hours.  Avon’s Skin-So-Soft® also has been marketed as a mosquito repellent in the U.S. in recent years. To date, research shows it’s much less effective than DEET.

Non-chemical repellents made from soy bean and eucalyptus oil (endorsed by the CDC) have been shown to offer somewhat shorter-term action (compared with DEET). Other oils – citronella, cedar, peppermint, lemongrass, and geranium – provide short-lived protection at best.

What to do if you get an especially itchy bite? There is reason to believe that putting a hot spoon (not enough to burn you, of course) on it will help to relieve the discomfort. According to experts, the heat destroys the protein that causes the allergic reaction.

 

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