Bug season is in full swing and pesky insects are out in droves searching for warm-blooded hosts. Biting bugs like spiders and bees usually don't bite or sting unless they're threatened. But mosquitoes? They're seeking a blood meal.
"Unfortunately, mosquitoes are most prominent in the summer months and they can also carry a host of bacteria that cause disease," explains Dina Ibrahim, M.D., a family medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. "Mosquitoes tend to linger in the air particularly at dawn and dusk and after a heavy rain."
What Attracts Mosquitoes To People
It seems there's always one person in a group who is more attractive to mosquitoes. Beyond the itchy, swollen pain of a bite or sting, mosquitoes carry debilitating diseases like malaria and West Nile Virus.
According to Dr. Ibrahim, it's important to know what draws mosquitoes in so you can make yourself less attractive to them. Several factors to be mindful of:
- Heat: Mosquitoes love warm, tropical, humid weather. They also like humans who naturally have a warmer body temperature. If mosquitoes frequently feast on you, be sure to avoid wearing black. It traps in the heat and can make you more attractive to biting insects.
- Size: In general, mosquitoes are attracted to bigger people, possibly because they have more blood. Larger bodies are also easier for a mosquito to spot. So a 250-pound athlete may be more likely to attract mosquitoes than a 20-pound child.
- Body odor: Scientists are still trying to figure out which body odors draw the mosquitoes. Oddly enough, research suggests that people who drink alcohol, especially beer, are more appealing to mosquitoes. "The exact mechanism isn't clear, but it could be that drinking alcohol is dehydrating and that can make your body odor more concentrated," Dr. Ibrahim says.
- Sweat: The hotter, stinkier and sweatier you are, the more likely mosquitoes will feast on you. The reason: In addition to heat, sweaty bodies produce more carbon dioxide.
- Pregnancy: During pregnancy, women have a much greater blood volume. Mosquitoes can sense that blood.
- Water: Female mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, so it makes sense that mosquitoes of all varieties like to hang out in moist and damp areas. To reduce your odds of becoming lunch, remove stagnant water from your property and turn over empty buckets and cans.
How To Protect Yourself Against Mosquitoes
Mosquito bites hurt. The redness, swelling and painful itch can keep you up at night — even if they aren't carrying a potentially deadly virus. With such high stakes, it’s important to protect yourself.
Since body temp seems to be the biggest draw, Ibrahim suggests doing what you can to stay cool. A few strategies:
- Stay hydrated. It's important to stay hydrated in the summer months, even if you aren't trying to repel mosquitoes. Getting sufficient fluids will not only help prevent heat-related illness, but hydration also helps you stay cool, particularly if you sip your beverages with ice.
- Hang out in the shade. The summer sun can be hot. Add humidity to the mix and you may feel drenched with sweat within minutes of heading outdoors. To cool down, stay in the shade or use an umbrella for protection against the sun's ultraviolet rays.
- Use repellent. According to Dr. Ibrahim, the best repellents contain 30% DEET, but less toxic repellents may also be effective, including oils of lemon and eucalyptus, picaridin and IR35-35 formulations. Mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide from our skin. DEET interferes with their ability to detect carbon dioxide.
- Wear neutral colors. Steer clear of dark colors (they retain heat), bright colors (bees will think you’re a flower) and white (ticks will be able to spot you better if you're wearing bright white). Colors like khaki are the best way to stay, well, neutral.
- Be vigilant. If you're traveling this summer, keep in mind that some countries not only have more mosquitoes than we do, but they may also be more deadly. Talk to your doctor before international travel and make sure you're covering your bases.
Experience flu-like or odd symptoms a few weeks after a bite? Check in with your health care provider. Diseases like Zika and West Nile Virus are a real threat, and the symptoms can be vague and easily dismissed. "If you develop a fever, rash, joint pain or numbness within a few weeks of a mosquito bite, talk to your doctor," Dr. Ibrahim says. "With nearly every vector-borne disease, early treatment plays a key role in recovery."
Reviewed by Dr. Dina Ibrahim, a family medicine doctor who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Royal Oak.