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Why Do Mosquitoes Bite You More Than Others?

Are you one of those people who’s been singled out for constant attack by mosquitoes? Ever felt like the designated bug decoy at a party? It does seem that those pesky biting insects have a preference for certain individuals, so the real question is: why you?

I wish there were a simple answer, but scientists have only isolated a few potential causes. It is likely that the full story remains to be elucidated – and may be related to small genetic variations in human odor. However, we do know that mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide (that we expel as we breathe), and warmer skin temperatures. So I guess if you’re a heavy-breathing, hot-blooded person then you might need an extra layer of DEET? Or maybe hold your breath and wear a scuba suit when you’re in the presence of mosquitoes? Just kidding.

Interestingly, one small study notes that mosquitoes are more likely to land on people who are drinking beer. Since alcohol tends to cause vasodilation of blood vessels, the enhanced skin warmth could be a mosquito attractant. Others have postulated that tipsy people are slower at swatting off mosquitoes and are therefore more likely to be bitten.

My personal suspicion is that some of us react to mosquito proteins (injected when they bite us) more robustly than others. That means that while a mosquito’s bite may leave only a tiny, fleeting mark on one person, another might develop a large red hive that itches intensely. So if your immune system is hyper-reactive to mosquito proteins, you’re likely to suffer more from each bite that you receive. That alone could make you feel as if you’re being singled out by the nasty insects, when the reality is that others are being bitten just as frequently.

I guess the take home message here is that insect-repellent is still the best defense against mosquito bites, although some might argue that keeping a heavy-breathing, sweaty, beer-drinking guy nearby might provide an alternative decoy?

Enjoy your summer – and don’t scratch yourself to death!

New Mosquito-Born Virus Could Come To US

In the June 11, 2009 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine appears an article by Mark Duffy and colleagues entitled “Zika Virus Outbreak on Yap Island, Federated States of Micronesia.” This outbreak occurred in 2007, and was described as a cluster of 108 persons with confirmed or suspected infection, characterized with main symptoms of skin rash, fever, conjunctivitis, and painful joints. Other less common symptoms were muscle aches, pain behind the eyes, tissue swelling and vomiting.

As reported by the authors, there were no hospitalizations, bleeding problems in victims, or deaths. The predominant mosquito culprit was Aedes hensilli. The disease was determined to be mild in this outbreak. Zika virus is in the family of flaviviruses, which include West Nile, dengue, and yellow fever viruses. It has been diagnosed in Asia and Africa, and is transmitted by infected mosquitoes. Before this particular outbreak, there had only been 14 cases of human Zika virus disease previously documented.

The diagnosis was made in this outbreak by sending serum samples from patients to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Arbovirus Diagnostic and Reference Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado.

How did this virus turn up in Yap? The most likely introducer was an infected mosquito or human. So, given the abundance of mosquitoes and propensity of people to travel, we may soon see this disease in other regions around the globe.

image courtesy of

This post, New Mosquito-Born Virus Could Come To US, was originally published on by Paul Auerbach, M.D..

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