You go outside to get the mail and when you close the front door you have 6 new mosquito bites on your legs and arm that are red and itchy, at the same time your friends innocently proclaim that they don’t have any bites after camping outdoors for 3 days.
Here are the Facts:
An estimated 20 percent of people, it turns out, are especially delicious for mosquitos, and get bit more often on a consistent basis. And while scientists don’t yet have a cure for the ailment, other than preventing bites with insect repellent (which, we’ve recently discovered, some mosquitoes can become immune to over time), they do have a number of ideas regarding why some of us are more prone to bites than others.
Here are some of the factors that could play a role:
Not surprisingly—since, after all, mosquitoes bite us to harvest proteins from our blood—research shows that they find certain blood types more appetizing than others. One study found that in a controlled setting, mosquitoes landed on people with Type O blood nearly twice as often as those with Type A. People with Type B blood fell somewhere in the middle of this itchy spectrum. Additionally, based on other genes, about 85 percent of people secrete a chemical signal through their skin that indicates which blood type they have, while 15 percent do not, and mosquitoes are also more attracted to secretors than nonsecretors regardless of which type they are.
One of the key ways mosquitoes locate their targets is by smelling the carbon dioxide emitted in their breath—they use an organ called a maxillary palp to do this, and can detect carbon dioxide from as far as 164 feet away. As a result, people who simply exhale more of the gas over time—generally, larger people—have been shown to attract more mosquitoes than others. This is one of the reasons why children get bit less often than adults, on the whole.
Exercise and Metabolism:
In addition to carbon dioxide, mosquitoes find victims at closer range by smelling the lactic acid, uric acid, ammonia and other substances expelled via their sweat, and are also attracted to people with higher body temperatures. Because strenuous exercise increases the buildup of lactic acid and heat in your body, it likely makes you stand out to the insects. Meanwhile, genetic factors influence the amount of uric acid and other substances naturally emitted by each person, making some people more easily found by mosquitos than others.
Other research has suggested that the particular types and volume of bacteria that naturally live on human skin affect our attractiveness to mosquitoes. In a 2011 study, scientists found that having large amounts of a few types of bacteria made skin more appealing to mosquitoes. Surprisingly, though, having lots of bacteria but spread among a greater diversity of different species of bacteria seemed to make skin less attractive. This also might be why mosquitoes are especially prone to biting our ankles and feet—they naturally have more robust bacteria colonies.
Beer - (Yes, you read that right):
Just a single 12-ounce bottle of beer can make you more attractive to the insects, one study found. But even though researchers had suspected this was because drinking increases the amount of ethanol excreted in sweat, or because it increases body temperature, neither of these factors were found to correlate with mosquito landings, making their affinity for drinkers something of a mystery.
In several different studies, pregnant women have been found to attract roughly twice as many mosquito bites as others, likely a result of the fact the unfortunate confluence of two factors: They exhale about 21 percent more carbon dioxide and are on average about 1.26 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than others
This one might seem absurd, but mosquitoes use vision (along with scent) to locate humans, so wearing colors that stand out (black, dark blue or red) may make you easier to find, at least according to James Day, a medical entomologist at the University of Florida, in commentary he gave to NBC.
As a whole, underlying genetic factors are estimated to account for 85 percent of the variability between people in their attractiveness to mosquitoes—regardless of whether it’s expressed through blood type, metabolism, or other factors. Unfortunately, we don’t (yet) have a way of modifying these genes, but…
Some researchers have started looking at the reasons why a minority of people seem to rarely attract mosquitoes in the hopes of creating the next generation of insect repellants. Using chromatography to isolate the particular chemicals these people emit, scientists at the UK’s Rothamsted Research lab have found that these natural repellers tend to excrete a handful of substances that mosquitoes don’t seem to find appealing. Eventually, incorporating these molecules into advanced bug spray could make it possible for even a Type O, exercising, pregnant woman in a black shirt to ward off mosquitoes for good.
So, Why Do Mosquitos Bite?
Only the female mosquito feeds on humans, and she needs a blood meal in order to produce eggs. During a feeding, the female mosquito bites the human skin, and injects saliva. The saliva contains various proteins that prevent the blood from clotting, as well as proteins that keep the blood flowing into the mosquito’s mouth.
Many of the mosquito saliva proteins can cause immune reactions, including allergic reactions. Typically, however, most people have a variety of reactions to mosquito bites, and the symptoms change over time, depending on the amount of bites a person received. These reactions can include both immediate and delayed swelling and itching around the bite area. These reactions tend to decrease in frequency after being bitten by mosquitoes over many years.
Generally, people with the above described reactions are not diagnosed as being “mosquito allergic." This term is reserved for people with more severe or unusual reactions, such as those described below.
More Severe Reactions to Mosquito Bites: "Skeeter Syndrome"
More severe reactions -- rather than the typical itchy red bump experienced by most people as a result of a mosquito bite -- occur less commonly. These may result in blistering rashes, bruises, or large areas of swelling at the bite sites.
People who experience extremely large areas of swelling after a mosquito bite (such as swelling of most of an arm or leg, for example) have been dubbed as having "Skeeter Syndrome."
In rare situations, some people may experience anaphylaxis after being bitten by mosquitoes. Other people may have experienced whole body urticaria and angioedema (hives and swelling), or worsening of asthma symptoms after being bitten.
Typically, these symptoms occur within minutes after a mosquito bite, compared to Skeeter Syndrome, which may take hours to days to occur.
Who Is at Risk for Mosquito Allergy?
People who are at higher risk of developing an allergy to mosquito bites include:
• Those with frequent outdoor exposure, such as outdoor workers or frequent outdoor exercisers;
• Those with low natural immunity to mosquitoes, such as young children and visitors to a new area where they have not been previously exposed to the type of mosquito present.
• Those with certain immunodeficiencies, such as AIDS or certain cancers (such as leukemias and lymphomas)
How Is Mosquito Allergy Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of mosquito allergy is based on a positive skin test or RAST using mosquito whole-body extract. Testing for mosquito allergy should only be performed in people who have a history of reactions more severe than the typical small, red, itchy bumps experienced by most people.
How Is Mosquito Allergy Treated?
These measures include:
• Avoiding areas infested by mosquitoes (such as swamps and tall grassy areas)
• Removing or treating areas of standing water (empty out or treat swimming pools with chlorine)
• Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants if exposure to areas containing mosquitoes is planned
• Applying a commercially-available mosquito-repellant on exposed skin, such as those containing DEET (N, N-dimethyl-3-methyl-benzamide). DEET in concentrations of 10%- 30% can safely be used on the skin of children older than 2 months of age.
• Treating clothing, camping tents and other fabric with permethrin (an insecticide), but do not apply directly to the skin.
• Also, since mosquitoes are attracted to body odor, skin temperature and carbon dioxide production, the limitation of strenuous exercise and sweating when in areas infested by mosquitoes may reduce the number of bites.
Professional Mosquito Control
At First Choice Pest Control we make sure to keep up to date on the latest methods of how to alleviate mosquito problems in the Tampa Bay area for both business and residential areas.
Let our experts help you get back outside to enjoy life in the beautiful Florida sunshine!
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