Dr. Day is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and currently serves as the president of the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
How to Protect Yourself from Mosquitos
I hate mosquitos. You probably do as well. In this article, I am going to teach you how to protect yourself from mosquitos, especially those carrying the Zika virus.
The Aedes Mosquito and the Zika Virus
The Zika virus is carried by the Aedes mosquito. The scary thing is that the Aedes mosquito visits a large portion of the United States. Basically, if you live along the coasts, or in the southern part of the U.S., you are at risk. Here is a map, to see if your home is at risk from this mosquito.
The Aedes mosquito is an aggressive mosquito. It hunts human blood and will even enter into your house.
The Aedes mosquito has recently invaded the U.S. This mosquito can be identified by the black and white markings on their body and legs. Unlike most mosquitos, the Aedes mosquito bites during the day.
The Zika virus has already caused countless birth defects in South America. It may even cause permanent paralysis. Even if you don’t live in an Aedes mosquito infested area and don’t travel, you could still get infected from a loved one who has recently visited the coastal or southern regions of the U.S.
While the media is focussed on the Zika virus, it is important to remember that this is not the only mosquito-borne disease. For example, the West Nile virus, elephantiasis, dengue fever, yellow fever etc. are all carried by mosquitos.
Why do mosquitos bite?
Actually, not all mosquitos bite. Only the females do.
This is because they need a protein from your blood to help them reproduce. Thus, your blood helps even more mosquitos enter into this world.
Are you a mosquito magnet?
Do you always seem to be the one that is munched on by mosquitos? I know I often feel that way. Is there any truth that some people are actually mosquito magnets?
According to medical studies, the answer is yes. The first step in how to protect yourself from mosquitos, is to minimize those things that make you a mosquito magnet.
Here are six proven ways you can become a mosquito magnet. To see the study supporting each way you can become a mosquito magnet, click on the link.
According to a controversial study, people with type O blood are twice as likely to be bitten than those with type A blood. Type B blooded people are somewhere between the Os and As.
This is probably the main reason why I seem to be a mosquito magnet. I love exercising outside.
Unfortunately, mosquitos are attracted to movement, heat, carbon dioxide, and lactic acid. Thus, anyone exercising outside, like me, instantly becomes a mosquito magnet.
3. You are pregnant.
In a study of 72 women in Gambia, pregnant women were twice as likely to attract mosquitos. As mosquitos are attracted to heat and carbon dioxide, researchers suggest that this is the reason why pregnant women are targets.
The bacteria living on your skin emit a characteristic smell. Depending on which bacteria live on your skin, you may have the right smell that attracts a mosquito.
Mosquitos prefer dark colors. Indeed, this is why studies show that black mosquito traps perform the best at attracting mosquitos.
For some people, like me, this is a hard fact to live with. Black is my favorite clothing color. Based on my review of the medical literature, I am now trying to wear light colored exercise clothing.
Strange as it may seem, drinking alcohol attracted mosquitos in one study. Unfortunately, the researchers offered no reason for this unexpected finding.
How to Protect Yourself from Mosquitos
The second step in how to protect yourself from mosquitos, is to take specific actions to minimize the risk of a serious bite. Here are my top three recommendations.
1. Avoid Outbreaks.
Right now, the biggest global outbreak is with the Zika virus. Pregnant women should avoid Latin America and the Caribbean.
Sexually active men may want to avoid Zika virus outbreak areas as well. This is because they can pass the virus through sexual contact. The virus can live for months in your semen. Pay attention to CDC updates as new outbreaks happen every year.
2. Cover Up.
Unfortunately, spandex exercise clothes probably won’t protect you from mosquito bites. Mosquitos can bite right through this material.
Baggier or thicker clothes offer more protection. Long pants and long shirts are best. Hats provide additional benefit.
Tuck shirts in. Tuck pants into socks. The less skin that is exposed the better when it comes to preventing mosquito bites.
3. Use Mosquito Repellant.
When considering the use of a repellant, you always have to balance the risks versus benefits. For example, if you are pregnant, and live in a Zika virus outbreak area, the benefits of preventing brain damage to your unborn child may far outweigh any potential risk from even the strongest mosquito repellant.
For people at the highest risk of a Zika virus infection, you will want to use a mosquito repellant with DEET, IR3585, or picariden. Of these, DEET has the best long-term track record. Despite toxicity concerns, studies show that the risk is relatively low.
For those in lower risk areas, like me, lemon eucalyptus is a great option. Select the repellant form of lemon eucalyptus, as only this form has been tested against mosquitos.
The main drawback of lemon eucalyptus is that the effect may not last as long as your bottle advertises. Plan on only one to two hours of protection from each application.
As mosquito bites in our area of the U.S. are generally benign, our family uses lemon eucalyptus. While it doesn’t prevent every mosquito bite, I have found that I can significantly reduce the welts on my arms and legs when exercising outside with this essential oil.
Other Natural Mosquito Repellants
Vitamin B1, or thiamine, is widely promoted on the internet as a safe way to prevent mosquito bites. Unfortunately, recent research has shown that it offers no benefit. Thus, despite what you may have read on the internet, the only proven natural remedy for preventing mosquito bites is lemon eucalyptus in the repellant form.
We Have the Technology to Destroy All Zika Mosquitos
According to this recent MIT review, we now have the technology to destroy all Zika mosquitos. This technology is called “gene drive.”
Basically, the Aedes mosquito is genetically modified so that as it reproduces it wipes out the entire Aedes mosquito population.
As there are many different types of mosquitos in the world, and the Aedes mosquito is not even native to the U.S., wiping out the Aedes mosquito population would likely have no significant impact to the U.S. The impact for the rest of the world will likely be hotly debated over the next few years.
I suspect that if enough children in the world suffer permanent brain damage from this invasive mosquito, public debate may change in favor of eradicating the Aedes mosquito. Even if the Aedes mosquito is eradicated from this planet, there will still be more than 3,500 other species of mosquitos left. Fortunately, most species of mosquitos don’t torment humans.
Take Home Message
Until the world has decided that we have had enough of the Aedes mosquito, this invasive mosquito will likely be with us for the foreseeable future. Depending on where you live, mosquito bites can be a major public health concern.
The most important thing to remember in how to protect yourself from mosquitos, is to not become a magnet and take special precautions so that you don’t get bitten too often this year.
To stay safe, anyone looking to grow their family should steer clear of the Aedes mosquito. Cover up when outside and use a repellant. If you choose a natural repellant, like lemon eucalyptus, remember to apply it every one to two hours.
Are you a mosquito magnet? What do you do to protect yourself from mosquito bites?
Please leave your experiences below. As always, I will do my best to answer any questions you leave below.
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Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.