They say mosquitoes are the deadliest animals in the world. It kills more than 700,000 people every year. Yet why do some people seem almost immune to it?
We all know at least one person whom mosquitoes seem to avoid. They could be sitting outside all day, at the peak of summer, and still go back indoors without a single bite. On the contrary, there’s someone who could be wearing long sleeves and long pants all day long but still find themselves attracting mosquitoes as if they’ve just walked into their lair without clothes on.
Some people joke that it’s their blood that makes them impervious or attractive to mosquitoes. In truth, though, it’s actually the chemical landscape of our surrounding air that makes a mosquito attracted to us or not. Mosquitoes have specialized behaviors and sensory organs that allow them to select victims based on that chemical landscape.
So if you think your blood and not the others’ is a mosquito’s favorite meal, here’s the truth about a mosquito’s “tastes“:
Carbon Dioxide and Mosquito Bites
Mosquitoes rely on carbon dioxide to find their host. When you exhale, the carbon dioxide you emit doesn’t immediately blend with the air around you. It momentarily stays in plumes that a mosquito can detect and track. They would orient themselves with the carbon dioxide pulses, and keep going as they sense higher concentrations of it than the normal ambient air holds. Mosquitoes can sense carbon dioxide coming from a distance of up to 164 feet (50 meters) away.
Once they’re around 3 feet (1 meter) away from a potential host, the mosquito will consider several factors before making their bite. The factors vary from person to person, but it includes skin temperature, the presence of water vapor, and color.
The microbes on a potential host’s skin is another factor a mosquito considers. You get these microbes from the secretions of your sweat glands. If you have a greater diversity of skin microbes, you’d less likely get bitten than a person with less diverse skin microbes.
Unfortunately, you cannot control the diversity of the microbes on your skin. But you can avoid bites by wearing light-colored clothing since mosquitoes love the color black.
Where Most Mosquitoes Reside
The place that you’re in can also determine your chances of getting a mosquito bite. If you live in Africa, you may be at a higher risk not just of bites but of mosquito-borne diseases as well, since the continent is one of the places where most mosquito-borne diseases occur. Traveling anywhere in Africa can also heighten your risk.
Other places with a large mosquito population include Brazil, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, and Australia. Humid tropical regions, basically.
Though mosquito bites are often harmless, a bite from an infected one can leave life-threatening effects. If a mosquito is carrying any type of the Plasmodium parasite, especially plasmodium falciparum or plasmodium vivax, their bite can cause malaria, one of the deadliest diseases in the world. Dengue fever and yellow fever are the other common diseases brought by infected mosquitoes, killing thousands of people, especially children, in South America and Asia every year.
Mosquito-borne diseases also occur in some parts of the United States. The West Nile virus is one of the viruses carried by mosquitoes in America. The country also records a few cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (Triple E) every year, a mosquito-borne disease that causes deadly brain infections.
Mosquito Control Methods
Applying insect repellent products with DEET is the simplest way to avoid mosquito bites. DEET produces a smell that naturally drives mosquitoes away.
- Use citronella products. Citronella is initially as effective as DEET, though its oils evaporate quickly. Still, keep a citronella product around so that you can use it when needed.
- Use lemon eucalyptus essential oil. If you don’t have pets, diffusing essential oils should be safe in your home. Lemon eucalyptus contains 85% citronella. It also protects against mosquitoes carrying malaria or yellow fever.
- Make a clove oil mixture. It can protect against yellow fever mosquitoes for up to 96 minutes. The mixture is made up of coconut oil, olive oil, and clove oil.
- Plant some basil. A laboratory study has found that the potted plant can provide 40% of protection against malaria mosquitoes.
Even if your area isn’t frequented by mosquitoes, use these protective measures nonetheless. Sometimes, you can get bitten several times before getting sick, or only suffer one bite and wind up in the hospital for days. If you’re lucky, you’ll recover and regain your health. But think of the others who couldn’t make it.