INFECTIOUS DISEASE CENTER

Myths About Mosquitoes

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
 | 
September 25, 2017

Mosquitoes are attracted to your sweat — true. Mosquitoes are attracted to people with a certain type of blood — false. Learn more here.

Myth: Mosquitoes like people with type 0 blood.

Truth: Some people attract mosquitoes more than others, largely for genetic reasons. But blood type isn’t a factor, reports Jonathan Day, PhD, professor of medical entomology at the University of Florida, Vero Beach. Mosquitoes are drawn to substances on the surface of your skin. They love lactic acid, which occurs in sweat, so you’ll get more bites after exercising. They also adore carbon dioxide, which you’ll secrete in more abundance while exercising or if you have a high metabolic rate. Bigger people and pregnant women tend to give off more carbon dioxide.

 

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Myth: DEET is toxic to humans.

Truth: It’s safe, even for children, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which did a comprehensive reevaluation in 2014. Don’t apply DEET more often than recommended, or on skin with cuts or irritations. Don’t ingest or inhale it. When using an aerosol, spray the product onto the palm of your hand and apply it to exposed skin, rather than spraying the skin directly, which will put more DEET spray in the air.

Myth: Non-DEET repellents don’t work.

Truth: A product containing lemon eucalyptus can work as well as a low-concentration DEET product, but you’ll have to reapply them as often as every 10 to 20 minutes. Avon Skin-So-Soft contains two effective repellents that the EPA has registered as safe: picaridin, which resembles a compound in the plant that produces black pepper, and one similar to the amino acid B-alanine.

Myth: Sprays are more effective.

Truth: The concentration is what counts. A 3 percent cream is just as effective as a 3 percent spray, and carries less risk of inhalation. Day recommends against products that combine sunscreen with a repellent. Put on the sunscreen first, then a separate repellent.

Myth: You don’t need to worry about mosquitoes in dry climates.

Truth: Mosquitoes can bite in the summer in the desert in the southwestern United Sates and the high plains east of the Rockies. What matters is the moisture in the soil in the spring. Don’t allow water to stand near your home, for instance in empty flowerpots or kiddie pools. Check rain gutters, and refresh water in birdbaths and fountains at least once a week. Weed out cattails and water hyacinth around ponds. Day recommends a larvicide called Bti Briquets for small ponds.

Myth: Mosquitoes are harmless in the United States.

Truth: Unfortunately, this isn’t so. Mosquitoes can spread West Nile virus, which can cause flulike symptoms and has cropped up in every state in the continental United States except Maine. Nearly all the cases of Zika virus infections in the United States have occurred in travelers. Pregnant women should be most careful: the virus can cause brain defects in the unborn child. Cases apparently caused by bites from local mosquitoes have cropped up in Central Florida, the Florida Keys, and south Texas communities in the Rio Grande Valley. However, Zika could spread to species of mosquitoes that are not carrying it now. One study that sought to pin down possibilities identified potential carriers that live in the Pacific Northwest, the upper mid-West, and along the West coast.

How to protect yourself from mosquito bites:

Wear tightly woven light colored clothing: Mosquitoes prefer dark colors. In dangerous areas, wear long sleeves and long pants and socks in sandals or closed shoes, and consider clothing pre-treated against mosquitoes or apply permethrin.

Use a repellent over sunscreen, especially if you’ll be near water or may be sweating. Don’t be afraid of DEET. If you choose a non-DEET product, reapply it as often as directed. Use common sense: Reapply any repellent if you see mosquitoes coming close to you or are bitten, or leave the area.

 

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Updated:

September 25, 2017

Reviewed By:

Janet O’Dell, RN