Are Mosquitoes More Attracted To Some People Over Others?

12/01/2016 3:33 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Mosquito sucking blood on human skin with nature background

The unusual weather Australia has been experiencing of late includes extreme heat, monsoon-like rain and high humidity.

Those factors combined not only make dressing difficult, more seriously, they also see mosquito season soar.

Director of Medical Entomology, Nina Kurucz, said flooding rains in the Top End and Central Australia had created favourable breeding conditions for the common banded mosquito that can transmit Ross River virus (RRV) and Murray Valley encephalitis virus (MVE).

“We are now in the high-risk period for RRV and the very wet conditions in the NT could also trigger an early start to the MVE season," Kurucz said.

With the bitey buggers on the rise, is there any truth to the thinking that they are attracted to some people more than others?

"Some people are definitely more likely to suffer a mosquito bite than others," Principal Hospital Scientist and Clinical Lecturer Dr Cameron Webb told The Huffington Post Australia.

"But it's not just the number of bites that vary from person to person. Each individual will react to a mosquito bite differently. In the same way we all differ in our reaction to food, chemical or environmental allergens, we all differ in our reaction to the saliva mozzies inject when they feed."

So, what is it about individual that attracts the mosquitoes to bite?

"Mosquitoes target in on individuals based on a range of factors. First and foremost, it is the carbon dioxide we exhale. That signals to the mosquitoes that there is a warm-blooded animal about," Webb said.

"Secondly, it is the chemical cocktail of smelly substances on our skin that determines how frequently we’ll be bitten by mosquitoes. The mix of these 300 or so chemical compounds on our skin attracts (or sometimes repels) mosquitoes."

"Blood type may play a role but there is certainly not a blood type mosquitoes will completely ignore. Probably the best natural repellent is a thick covering of body hair!," Webb said.

There are many urban myths and home remedies linking food or drink to mosquito repulsion, though these are not backed by science.

"While some studies have suggested drinking beer will actually increase mosquito bites, there is certainly no evidence that anything you can eat or drink will prevent mosquitoes flying in for a blood meal. Ingesting huge amounts of garlic, bananas or vitamin B won’t keep the mosquitoes at bay," Webb said.

In terms of treating bites once you've got them, sadly there are no hard and fast rules or remedies.

"There really hasn’t been a perfect solution to itchy mosquito bites discovered just yet. A cold compress seems to be most reliable, it will reduce the itchy as well as the swelling. Some of the “anti-itch” creams from the local pharmacy are worth a try too. Most importantly, particularly for young children, make sure the bite site is washed clean and antiseptic creams are applied. These bites will get much worse if the skin is broken and secondary infection occurs," Webb said.

When seeking to repel mosquitoes, look for products that contain one common ingredient.

"The insect repellents that provide the longest lasting protection are those that contain 'DEET' or 'picaridin'. They’re commonly found in all the popular brands found on supermarket shelves. Make sure they’re applied as a thin and even coat on all exposed skin, as a dab “here and there” won’t provide adequate protection,"

Webb revealed that while plant-based repellents work okay, they need to be reapplied more frequently than products containing DEET or picaridin.

"When it comes to candle and coils, it is best to use products that contain insecticides. Those that burn citronella will keep some mozzies away, but the insecticide-based products will kill local mosquitoes, giving you a better shot at a bite free backyard BBQ," Webb said.

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