Why are some people insect magnets, while others are rarely stung? About one in ten Americans is super-attractive to biting pests—but with the right precautions, it’s possible to escape stings and bug-borne diseases, according to University of Florida entomology professor Dr. Phil Koehler.
“Your allure to mosquitoes depends on your body chemistry, which is as distinctive as a fingerprint,” he reports. How much you breathe and sweat also influences risk for bites, since the tiny bloodsuckers home in on carbon dioxide and lactic acid from perspiration.
Scientists have also made some surprising discoveries that can help you keep bugs at bay this summer, despite predictions of a record year for mosquitoes, due to floods and wet weather in many areas of the US. Also scary are such new invaders as Asian tiger mosquitoes, bloodthirsty pests that bite all day long, and “monster mosquitoes” that are up to five times bigger than the normal ones.
Insect stings send more than 500,000 Americans to the hospital each year, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Some people are highly allergic to mosquitoes, developing large areas of swelling, soreness and redness—a problem known as “skeeter syndrome.”
In addition, mosquitoes can cause such diseases as West Nile, dengue fever, malaria and some forms of brain infection, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Sprays containing 50 percent DEET are the best insect repellent, says Dr. Koehler. “Higher concentrations of DEET don’t increase effectiveness.” Also try these oddball tactics to keep biting bugs at bay:
Oddly enough, smelly feet attract mosquitoes—a discovery made by a courageous scientist, Bart Knols, who sat in a lab wearing nothing but undies and let bugs bite him to see which parts of the body they were most likely to attack.
Knols found that 75 percent of the mosquitoes zeroed in on his feet, but after he used deodorant soap, they bit indiscriminately. He and his team also found that stinky cheeses, such as Limburger, which contain the same compound that causes foot odor, have a similar allure for mosquitoes, perhaps because they are fooled into thinking they’ve found a smelly foot.
Human odors are particularly appealing to malaria-infected mosquitoes, a study published in PLOS ONE reports.
Gardeners have long claimed that packing their pockets with Bounce fabric softener sheets fends off biting insects like gnats and mosquitoes. A recent Kansas State University study found that Bounce dryer sheets are indeed highly effective at warding off gnats under lab conditions.
The experiments suggested that two compounds in the sheets—linalool (found in such plants as lavender and basil) and beta-citronellol (found in citronella and rose geranium)—explain the repellent effect.
Both bug-repelling botanical candles (such as citronella) and diffusers can help fend off biting pests, says Dr. Koehler, but only if the air is relatively still. “A strong wind will blow the repellent compounds away, making them ineffective.”
A recent study found that such commercially available botanical insect repellents as geraniol, linalool, and citronella work much better as continuous release diffusers than candles. In fact, citronella candles were only 14 percent effective against mosquitoes, while a citronella diffuser was 68 percent effective. Of these compounds, the most effective diffuser was geraniol, which had a 97 percent repellent rate.
Researchers report that a full moon increases mosquito activity by 500 percent, according to the American Mosquito Control Association. In general, the tiny vampires are most likely to attack at dusk or dawn—and some species will travel up to 40 miles in search of a blood meal. You can also limit exposure by using DEET spray, wearing light colored clothing, and covering up with pants and a long-sleeved top.
Since the carbon dioxide we exhale is one of the smells the pests home in on, researchers are now working on fragrances that will attract and stun mosquitoes’ carbon dioxide sensors, leaving them too confused to find human victims.
“Some of [the fragrances] smell minty, some smell fruity, and some smell like caramelized chocolate,” Anandasankar Ray, an entomologist at University of California Riverside, told Fox News. The scents will be used in bug traps, to help protect people from such mosquito-borne diseases as West Nile, dengue fever, and malaria. In a somewhat similar manner, DEET works by masking skin odors.
Bug-zappers should be avoided, since they kill insects indiscriminately—including beneficial ones—and the exploded airborne bug particles may shower allergens and pathogens on nearly people, cautions Pinellas Country Mosquito Control.
If you do get bitten despite your precautions, a new FDA-cleared device called Therapik uses heat to neutralize venom from more than 20,000 species of insects and sea creatures, delivering fast, drug-free relief from pain and itching. Zapping the bite takes just 30 seconds.
Avoid scratching bug bites to reduce the risk of infection. Seek medical help if you have a severe reaction to a bite, develop an infection, or develop signs of West Nile Virus, such as a high fever, stiff neck, confusion, aching joints, or rash.
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