Think it’s too early to worry about mosquitoes? Hardly! Depending on where you live, mosquito season may have already started. Particularly if your corner of the world is one of those that was experiencing 80° temperatures in February. Just the weather our blood-sucking nemeses have been waiting for.
Some of us will be more displeased by this thought than others. Those would be the people who spend an evening by the campfire swatting at the little monsters while everyone else is simply concentrating on the next verse of “Kumbaya.” If this is you, you might be wondering what you’ve done to deserve so much attention?
Mosquitoes are drawn to us primarily by smell, from the carbon dioxide we exhale, to the lactic acid in our sweat, or even to the byproducts of our bodies processing cholesterol. Our body heat also helps them to determine where best to bite to access our blood. Most of these things we have no control over, but here are some factors you should be aware of that can promote bites.
1. Drinking beer
The sweat that you secrete when you drink alcohol magically attracts mosquitoes. According to a 2010 study, consumption of the alcohol equivalent of three cans of beer consistently led to increased mosquito bites — a full 30% more in controlled laboratory conditions. Not good news if you enjoy spending time at your local beer garden.
It’s not just the opposite sex that finds your sporty figure irresistible; your friend the mosquito is inclined to agree. The reasons for this are manifold. First, physical activity causes you to breathe more heavily and thus emit more carbon dioxide, which is how the mosquito first latches onto you as a target. Mosquitoes are also visual hunters, so they are more likely to notice you when you’re moving. Furthermore, once she’s (did you know that only the females bite?) decided you’ll make a good meal, she looks for easy access to your blood supply, i.e. veins that are closer to the surface of your skin. And exercise does exactly that: it gets your blood flowing and your veins widen in the process, thus providing the mosquito an ideal target.
Pregnant women emit more carbon dioxide than their non-pregnant counterparts, so not only is a pregnant woman more likely to be bitten, she has more at stake. As we all learned from last year’s Zika virus outbreak, infection can have dire consequences for a developing fetus. Best not to take chances. That last pre-baby vacation to someplace tropical may be really tempting, but as we don’t know what this mosquito season will bring, mothers-to-be should avoid the Zika zones.
4. Your blood type
A 2004 study showed that a particular type of mosquito (Aedes albopictus) was 83% more likely to land on people with blood type O. Good news for everyone else but bad news if you’ve got type O blood.
So let’s say you’re an active person who happens to like drinking beer outdoors AND you’re unlucky enough to have type O blood? (We’ll leave pregnancy out of the equation for now…) Should you just resign yourself to being a mosquito’s local cocktail bar? Don’t abandon hope yet. In addition to investing in some good personal mosquito repellent, there are some things we can all do (blood type be damned) to help keep the mosquito population in check.
- Regularly empty and refresh any sources of standing water such as birdbaths
- Install a mosquito net over rain collector barrels
- Clear blocked gutters that allow rain water to get trapped
- Invest in a mosquito trap (or several!) for the back yard
- If you have a pond in your garden, you can use Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis), a fish-safe bacterium that kills mosquito larvae
- An outdoor fan for your deck or patio can not only blow away carbon dioxide, but also makes it more difficult for weak-flying mosquitoes to land
So no excuses for not staying fit and enjoying a healthy beer in the great outdoors this spring and summer. May the battle against mosquitoes commence and you emerge the victor!