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Oh, mosquitoes just love me!

Heather Kain

Posted on Apr 26th, 2018


It is a warm Summers evening, you are relaxing and enjoying a beautiful sunset, suddenly every mosquito within fifteen miles seems making a beeline right for you. The zen-like moment is ruined, the swatting begins, and by next morning you are covered in red, itchy welts.

Man, mosquitoes really do suck, both literally and figuratively. Female mosquitoes transmit a number of diseases that have no official treatment. To make matters worse, mosquitoes are primarily attracted to aspects of your biology that you cannot change. The factors include: carbon dioxide, body odor, lactic acid, secretions, and blood type.

Mosquitoes are attracted to the carbon dioxide that we exhale, and so it makes sense that many species of mosquitoes try to attack your cheeks first. However, it is not purely carbon dioxide alone; it is the combination of chemicals like lactic acid, octenol, uric acid, and fatty acids that act as attractants. Compounding the complexity of the problem, the larger you are, the more carbon dioxide you emit. So adults are more likely to be bitten than children. Pregnant women exhale above average levels, and if you have been consuming alcohol, you are even more likely to be a mosquito magnet. Variations abound!

Body odor is caused by bacterial colonies on your skin that is unique to you, and when combined with sweat (which would be odorless if not for the bacteria) create an aromatic scent that is pleasing to mosquitoes. This is especially true for the Anopheles species of mosquitoes that transmit malaria who are attracted to Limburger cheese. The bacterium that produces Limburger cheese, Brevibacterium linens, is closely related to the bacterium Brevibacterium epidermis, which is found on our skin.

Lactic acid is a great attractant for mosquitoes, it is produced through active movement or eating certain foods. Exercise buffs are going to be particularly attractive to mosquitoes, especially to Aedes that transmit dengue, zika, yellow fever, chikungunya, and la crosse encephalitis. As far as foods that produce or release lactic acid, they include dairy, pickled foods, and baked products using sourdough. Not to mention that if you are exercising then you are producing more carbon dioxide and sweating.

Most people are secretors (>70%) of certain compounds through their skin, such as saccharides and antigens. Whether or not an individual is a secretor is determined by biology, and it cannot be changed.

Blood type is related to secretions. Different blood types secrete different compounds that attract mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are most attracted to Type O blood and least attracted to Type A blood; which is fascinating because those are the two most common blood types.

Not all hope is lost, as some tricks to dissuade mosquitoes from feasting on you. Mosquitoes do not like citrus. It is probably because citrus acts as a natural antibacterial and therefore makes your body odor less appealing. Similarly, mosquitoes are not too keen to the scents of lavender, basil, catnip, peppermint, marigold, and eucalyptus.

These findings lend themselves to certain recommendations; try using a plant-based repellent every now and again. Try wearing loose, light-colored clothing. Light colors will retain less heat and loose fitting clothing will make it more difficult for mosquitoes to bite.

Mosquito-Borne Diseases:

  1. Malaria- Anopheles. sub-Saharan Africa, South-East Asia, Western Pacific, Eastern Mediterranean, and the America’s
  2. Dengue- Aedes. South-East Asia, Western Pacific, Latin America, and Caribbean
  3. Zika- Aedes. South-East Asia, Western Pacific, Latin America, and Caribbean
  4. West-Nile- Culex. Africa, Europe, Middle East, West and Central Asia, and North America
  5. Yellow Fever-Aedes and Haemagogus. Africa and South America
  6. Chikungunya- Aedes. Africa, the Americas, South-East Asia, Oceania, Italy, and France
  7. Japanese Encephalitis-Culex. Japan, North and South Korea, South East Asia, India, and Australia
  8. La Crosse Encephalitis- Aedes. United States, predominately the Midwest and South-Eastern United States
  9. Eastern Equine Encephalitis-Culiseta. United States
  10. Western Equine Encephalitis-Culex. North America

About the Author

Heather Kain is a scientist in the Kaushansky lab and studies the pathogens that cause malaria and dengue. In her spare time she is an avid baker and hopes one day to have her own lab/bakery inside of a dormant volcano.

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