This summer has been quite a pleasant one in the mosquito front. Up until recently, I was one of the lucky few who hadn’t been attacked by these tiny menaces. I contributed this to my healthier lifestyle, cutting back on junk food and unnecessary added sugars, fats, etc. Instead of giving up on snacking completely, I now snack on carrots instead of chips, as snacking provides a lot of joy in my life.
This lifestyle has only been successful until August, when my lovely neighbor started flashing these extremely bright lights into my bedroom window at 3:00 a.m. (don’t you just love NYC apartments?) Thanks to said neighbor, in five minutes, I went from mosquito-free, to a victim of six bites, all by a clearly visible vein. To avoid getting more bites, I migrated into my living room, but to no avail. By 4:00 a.m., I now had three more bites.
According to the Smithsonian, there are eight reasons why a person is more susceptible to getting bitten than others.
A 2011 study has shown that certain types and volume of bacteria that naturally live in our skin can affect the frequency of getting bitten. People with large amounts of a few types of bacteria was more appealing, while bacteria diversity in their skin actually made mosquitoes less attracted to them. For this reason, there is speculation that ankles and feet are common biting grounds, as these areas naturally have more robust bacteria colonies.
A 2002 study has discovered that just one 12-ounce bottle of beer makes you a lighthouse to mosquitoes. Scientists aren’t exactly certain why this is the case, but some suggestions have been because of increased ethanol excretion in sweat, or higher body temperature. However, neither factor has a definitive correlation to mosquito landings.
Mosquitoes need our blood to harvest proteins – without it, female mosquitoes cannot lay eggs. For this reason, a 2004 study has shown that mosquitoes are more attracted to certain blood types than others. Mosquitoes were attracted to Type A blood individuals the least, followed by Type B blood individuals; mosquitoes were twice as attracted to Type O blood individuals than Type A. We also have other genes that tell mosquitoes what kind of blood we have – 85 percent of people release this chemical signal through their skin. Interestingly, mosquitoes are more attracted to people who secrete this information than not, regardless of blood type.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
Mosquitoes have a maxillary palp, an organ responsible for detecting CO2; they can lock on their targets that stand as far as 164 feet away. Larger people, who generally release more CO2, attract more mosquitoes simply because they exhale. Children are bit less often than adults partly because of this reason.
According to medical entomologist at the University of Florida, James Day, wearing certain colors make you more attractive to mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can use their vision to locate people who wear striking colors like black, dark blue, or red.
Exercise & Metabolism
Besides CO2, mosquitoes love sweat and high body temperatures. Not exactly sweat, but what’s in the sweat. Besides cooling us down, our bodies produce sweat to regulate itself from toxins, like lactic acid, uric acid, ammonia, etc. People who engage in strenuous exercise are treats for mosquitoes because of lactic acid buildup in their muscles and body heat. On top of this, there are genes that can influence the amount of uric acid and other chemical substances a person naturally emits, so you can easily become a delicious five course meal to a lucky mosquito.
85 percent of the variability between people’s attractiveness to mosquitoes is due to their genes.
Many studies have shown that pregnant women attract about twice as much mosquitoes as others, possible because of CO2 and body temperature. Pregnant women exhale about 21 percent more CO2 and are typically 1.26º F warmer than non-pregnant women.
The Future of Mosquito Bites
Besides looking at people who attract mosquitoes, scientists have turned their attention to those who rarely attract them. Using the latter’s genetic information, they hope to create an effect mosquito repellent. Through chromatography, a UK lab has taken apart these people’s chemical secretions. They have discovered that these individuals excrete a natural repellent that mosquitoes dislike. Soon, Type O pregnant women who like to wear black with the perfect number of bacterial colonies can exercise without being bitten.
But for Right Now…
While scientists are working hard to prevent future bites, we aren’t there yet. So, for any individual who has been bitten, I introduce to you my mom’s unconventional solution: liquid dish detergent. It seems out of the blue (no pun intended), but dish detergent works like a charm. We have tried all sorts of solutions like tea tree oil and liquid Pepto Bismol, but nothing works quite as effectively as the thing you use to wash your dishes.
When I get bitten, I’m careful to only use three things only: cold water, soap, and dish detergent. First, I immediately wash the area with cold water and soap. I then pat the area dry and apply a layer of dishwashing detergent and let it dry completely, forming a cover over the bite. If you’re pressed for time, you can just put on the dish detergent and let that dry, but it just feels refreshing to wash your bite in cold water.
There are probably other solutions out there, but as a person who gets hive sized mosquito bites (even if I don’t touch it), this is the most effective method out there. Obviously, it isn’t perfect, but it’s cheap and beats going out to by creams and essential oils that you normally don’t keep in your medicine cabinet.
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IMAGE CREDIT: Shoise