How to Prevent Mosquito Bites According to Science

Studies show how to be less of a mosquito magnet.


Study, Science, Nature
scratching itchy mosquito bites.

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Mosquitos are everywhere and some people are actually mosquito magnets. That’s because mosquitos use odors to choose their targets. Odors help these pesky bloodsuckers distinguish humans from other animals and the insect has evolved to prefer humans, according to National Geographic. But now, there is new hope for relief

Mosquitoes can detect the carbon dioxide people breathe out as well as the odors from their skin, especially those from underarms and feet, from about 200 feet. They can see people at 50 feet and when they get close enough, they can choose their target.

“It’s very striking how good mosquitoes are at detecting us,” Diego Giraldo, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins and co-author of a new study, told National Geographic. The research showed that mosquitoes can pick out their targets from multiple people and that the idea that some people are more attractive to them is valid.

Mosquitoes are more than just a nuisance, they are a serious health threat because they transmit malaria, dengue fever, Zika, and West Nile disease. While these diseases are usually thought of as tropical, they are spreading north due to climate change.

About the study
The researchers tested the mosquitoes by setting up multiple locations that had different human odors and checking to see which one attracted the most. The insects were four times more likely to land on the disk that had the most attractive odor.

Next, the team set out to identify which odor was preferred. “Human odor, however, is incredibly complex,” said  Stephanie Rankin-Turner, a chemist at Johns Hopkins, who also worked on the study. “There are a lot of chemical compounds [in human odors] that no one’s ever classified before.”

It turns out that the pesky biters were drawn to carboxylic acids that are found in human sweat and acetoin, which is produced by skin microbes.

It is your unique mixture of odors that determine whether mosquitos target you or someone else, according to NPR. But there are ways to make yourself less attractive to them by swatting them so they learn to avoid you or to change the way you smell.

How to make yourself less attractive to mosquitos
People use a lot of scented products like shampoos, soaps, and deodorants that add layers of scents. According to National Geographic, it is possible to use these scents to fool mosquitos.

A 2023 study tested this theory by comparing how many mosquitos landed on a nylon sleeve that was worn on an unwashed arm to how many landed on the sleeve of a freshly washed arm of the same test person. The experiment was repeated using four different brands of soap.

The researchers found that more mosquitoes landed on the washed arms of people who used three of the brands, Dove, Simple Truth, and Dial. The Native brand seemed to repel the biters. “All the soaps we used were largely dominated by a compound called limonene, which is a known mosquito repellent—but three out of four soaps actually increased mosquito attraction,” Clément Vinauger, a neuroethologist at Virginia Tech and a co-author said in the study.

Of course, its way too early to come up with a definitive way to use scent to repel mosquitos so it is important for you to experiment on which scents attract more bites, according to National Geographic.

Another way to make yourself more mosquito proof is to wear long sleeves and lighter colored clothing, since mosquitos are more attracted to dark clothing. You can also try various commercial or natural mosquito repellents.

While much more research is needed to find out what attracts mosquitoes and how to repel them, these are important first steps in preventing mosquito bites.

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