Professional Opinion: Do mosquitoes like some people's blood more than others?

rdamgen@beaufortgazette.comApril 28, 2014 

Pamela Edwards specializes in family medicine at Lady's Island Medical Center

SUBMITTED PHOTO

This week, Pamela Edwards, who specializes in family medicine at Lady's Island Medical Center, discusses whether mosquitoes, no-see-ums and other bugs really are attracted to some people more than others and offers tips on how to avoid being bit.

Question. Is it true that mosquitoes, no-see-ums and other bugs like some people's blood more than others? Does wearing perfume or fragrant hair products attract the bugs? Is there any solution to avoiding bug bites that doesn't mean smelling like eau de bug spray?

Answer. The susceptibility of some people to insect bites is under investigation at this time. There is some research implicating some common factors serve to entice insects, and mosquitoes in particular, to feast on your skin. Those factors are: movement, body heat, acid production (e.g., lactic acid or uric acid), increased exhaled carbon dioxide, being around standing water or marshes, and genetic factors and blood type (predominantly type O).

So thank your neighbor jogging down the street. As they jog, their movement, increased body heat, lactic acid production and increased carbon dioxide exhalation (from the panting caused by jogging outside in South Carolina) will send off signals to mosquitoes 50 meters away, causing them to charge him or her. And if the jogger has type O blood, then that may be an additional come-hither enticement for the mosquitoes. Hopefully, that will give us indoor Zumba-doing people enough time to walk to our cars without being attacked.

Contrary to some popular belief, body odor (per se) and fragrances do not seem to significantly impact an insect's choice of dinner.

There are several ways to prevent becoming a meal for the local arthropods:

  • Move away from the Lowcountry. But, assuming that you like your home where it is currently situated, assess the area around your home and make sure there is no standing water (e.g., clogged gutters, birdbaths, garbage bin lids, and the abandoned pink Barbie Jeep in the backyard). The worst seasons for biting bugs are spring and fall, and the worst times of the day are morning and evening. Of course, that's when we all actually like to be outside.

  • Don't become pregnant. Pregnant women exhale approximately 21 percent more carbon dioxide and have temperatures that are approximately 1.26 degrees Farenheit higher than their non-pregnant counterparts, making them a tasty target.

  • Wear lighter colored clothing and use insect repellent. There are several options for this. DEET products can be used safely and are the most effective and long-lasting. Picaridin is a less odorous and oily option, but has a shorter duration. Avon's Skin So Soft and a newer product called metofluthrin, which was approved by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2006, are also options. Metofluthrin is clipped on clothing, and a battery-powered fan sprays the repellent into the air. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is a more natural, but slightly less effective alternative.

  • Permethrin-treated clothing is also effective. Permethrin can be sprayed on clothing and will last through approximately 6 washes. There are also pre-treated clothing brands, such as Insect Shield and Buzz Off. These may be effective for up to 70 washes. This chemical affects the nervous system of the insects and is a great option for people taking advantage of the excellent camping options in this area.

  • Follow reporter Rachel Damgen at twitter.com/IPBG_Rachel.

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