In summer, people are itching to get outside; but it doesn’t take long before they find themselves coming back in with a different kind of itch: mosquito bites. But both the annoying bites and the products we use to prevent them can spell trouble for people with allergies or sensitivity to chemicals. So who’s most susceptible to the blood-loving bugs, what attracts them and how can you keep them at bay?
For answers on mosquito safety, we turned to Stoy Hedges, senior technical professional and entomologist with Terminix, as well as mosquito allergy studies.
Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org
Susan Ellis, Bugwood.org
• Mosquitos breed in aquatic areas, so they are most likely to be found near ponds, drainage ditches, wooded areas, and other spots where water can pool.
• Anything that can hold water for five to seven days can breed mosquitos.
• Not all mosquitos bite at night; some species bite during the day.
• Mosquitos are attracted to body heat, and to the CO2 we emit when we breathe.
• They are also attracted by several chemicals, or kairomones, that we emit, so some people really are more attractive to mosquitos than others.
• It’s the female mosquito that does the biting.
Did You Know?
• While anaphylaxis (the serious form of allergic reaction) from mosquito bites is rare, it has been reported. Venom immunotherapy for mosquito does exist.
• Mosquito larvae have a hard time surviving on moving water; they prefer spots where water is standing; and if that water gets dumped out before they hatch, they will die.
• Despite their size and their flying style, mosquitos can travel quite a distance, so even if you keep your yard free of standing water, they may fly in from your neighbors’ yards.
• It is not true that if you drink more alcohol you will get bitten more often.
• It’s also a myth that men get bitten more often than women, or vice versa.
• Mosquitos also feed on the blood of lizards, turtles, snakes, alligators, birds and many other creatures.
• In rare cases, mosquitos can transfer the West Nile virus from a bird to a human.
• Researchers have had great success with attractive toxic sugar baits, or ATSBs, which use a mixture of sugar, which attracts the mosquitos, and garlic oil (or thyme or rosemary oil), which kills them. Contact your local pest control company for more information.
• If you have a tire swing or old tires in your yard, make sure to drill holes in the bottom so rainwater doesn’t collect in them.
• If you have a pond or garden water feature, consider installing an aerator, which will create ripples on the surface and make it difficult for the mosquito larvae to survive and emerge as adults.
• You can also add fish that eat mosquito larvae, the Gambusia affinis (or “Mosquitofish”).
• DEET-containing products are the most effective repellants, but many people don’t like to use them because of their chemical content.
• In the evening, cover up with long sleeves, long pants and a hat that covers the back of your neck.
• If you are allergic to mosquito bites you will experience a more significant reaction than normal, such as larger hives, joint swelling, or fever. In rare cases, mosquito bites can even cause anaphylaxis. If you suspect you have an allergy to mosquito bites, see an allergist for testing.
• Don’t leave flower pots, plastic containers, or anything that collects water standing upright in your yard; store them upside down instead.
• Don’t allow your rain gutters to fill with debris, and if they’re damaged, repair or replace them. They need to flow well so they don’t collect water.
• If you have a birdbath, or flower pots, or anything in your yard that collects water, don’t let them stand for too long. Be sure to empty them every few days.
• Never scratch a bite because you can introduce bacteria and cause an infection – even a serious staphylococcus infection. Use anti-itch cream instead.
• If you have a sensitivity to scents, avoid scented insect repellants and bug sprays.