How to Avoid Mosquitoes and Not Get Bit

Brazil Faces New Health Epidemic As Mosquito-Borne Zika Virus Spreads Rapidly

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There are a lot of reasons to skip out on mosquito bites this summer. Zika has been spreading in the Caribbean and Latin America. It may spread further up north. Chikungunya and Dengue are also spreading in the same locales. Further away, there's an outbreak of yellow fever in Angola and there's always anything from malaria to Japanese encephalitis to worry about.

So don't get bit.​ That's easier said than done, though. Some of us just seem like magnets for mosquitoes. We're always swatting at them. Our arms end up freckled in bites. We have a halo of mosquitoes swarming over our heads every evening. What can you do?

How to Avoid Mosquitoes

  • Use insect repellent.
    • This may include DEET (which is found in Cutter, OFF!, Skintastic). The higher the percentage, the longer the protection. DEET seems to do well against Aedes (Zika) mosquitoes
    • The CDC also recommends picaridin (also called KBR 3023, Bayrepel, icaridin) found in Cutter Advanced, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus, and Autan) which appears to do well against Aedes (Zika) mosquitoes
    • The CDC in addition does recommend oil of lemon eucalyptus (also called OLE or PMD) found in Repel and IR3535 found in Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Expedition and SkinSmart.  Don't forget to reapply the insect repellent. Kids and pregnant women should use it too.
  • Keep yourself covered. Use long sleeves, pants; wear shoes, not flip flops. Keep yourself cool and covered. Different fabrics and clothing can keep you protected from mosquitoes (and the sun) without getting too hot.
  • Get rid of standing water. Mosquitoes (especially some that spread Zika) can breed in small amounts of water in and around the home. This includes flower vases.
  • Keep mosquitoes from getting inside. Close your windows. Use screens in the windows and doors. Use air conditioning.
  • Sleep under a mosquito net if you're at high risk. However, this won't protect much against the mosquito that spreads Zika which is most active in daylight (dusk and dawn especially). But if you're feeling sick or taking a nap, it may be good to use a mosquito net and you're getting bit.
  • Know where to avoid and when. Sometimes there's an area where mosquitoes congregate, especially at a certain time. Don't hold a summer party at dusk right where mosquitoes are going to come out.
  • Know where you're traveling. Know if Zika is present or if you should take malaria prophylaxis before you go.
  • Sometimes spraying helps. Fogging to kill adult mosquitoes, often done by government agencies and specialists, can help clear out mosquitoes, but often doesn't have much of an impact for long.

Do Mosquitoes Like Some More Than Others?

Yes. There are some people who just seem to attract mosquitoes. There are studies showing all sorts of folks who seem at more risk.

  • Women who are pregnant are often more at risk for being bit and for the consequences of Zika and malaria. It's thought this is because pregnant women are a bit warmer (they have slightly higher temperatures) and breathe out more carbon dioxide.

Mosquitoes seem to be attracted to carbon dioxide, which we all breathe out. But the bigger we are and the harder we breathe, the more we breathe out. This means exercising, say going for a run, may put us at more risk, unless we keep running to avoid them. There are other chemicals in our sweat that can also attract them. Some of us also have different bacteria on our skin, like all of us do in our microbiome, that attract mosquitoes more.

There seem to be a lot of other zany reasons why some people get bit more than others.

  • It might be your blood type. Those with Type O Blood seem to have mosquitoes land on them the most; Type A the least. But this can vary with the type of mosquito.
  • Even drinking beer may increase the risk.
  • Perhaps, wearing blue, or even black or red, may make you more likely to get bit.
  • Your genes might put you at risk; like the genes affecting your levels of cholesterol may make a difference.

Oh, and anyone who doesn't protect against mosquitoes: covering up, avoiding them, using repellent, is more likely to attract mosquitoes, too.

Are All Mosquitoes the Same?

Not at all. The mosquitoes known for spreading malaria in people (Anopheles) are very different than the mosquitoes known for spreading Zika (Aedes) which are different from the mosquitoes known for spreading West Nile Virus and Japanese Encephalitis (Culex). Each genus (Anopheles, Aedes, Culex etc) has different species. Each of these species (like Aedes albopictus, Anopheles gambiae, Culex pipiens) can have different behaviors. Some can be very aggressive biters (like Aedes Aegypti). Some bite at night, like the mosquitoes that spread malaria. Some breed in small bits of water in our homes, like Aedes albopictus. 

Are There New Ways to Stop Mosquitoes?

There are a lot of new ideas. Some are in favor of releasing sterilized male mosquitoes (who mate with females, produce no offspring and prevent fertile males from mating). Others are looking at genetically engineered mosquitoes. Still, others look to infect mosquitoes with a bacteria, Wolbachia, that is common in insects and does not appear to harm people; it may reduce the transmission of Dengue (and maybe Zika and Chikungunya) or reduce the viability of mosquito eggs.

Is It Bad to Get Rid of All Mosquitoes?

Well, we're not looking to get rid of all mosquitoes. That would be really hard. What we are trying to do is reduce the numbers of the mosquitoes that bite humans and drink our blood that we're concerned about. There are over 3500 species of mosquitoes, only about 1 in 16 do this. Only about 100 species are known to spread disease from biting us. It's just about 1 percent that are particularly terrible. And it's only just the females.

There have been large areas where these nasty mosquitoes have been eliminated. The US used to have malaria and yellow fever, getting rid of these mosquitoes (though some species have been making a comeback) made a huge difference. Being able to control water storage had a real impact. Getting rid of these mosquitoes didn't hurt, but really helped. There are many who believe getting rid of these particularly nasty species, everywhere, would be a real help.

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