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True or False: Mosquitoes Are Attracted to Some People More Than Others

mythbuster graphic Does it ever seem like mosquitoes are targeting some of your friends and family more than others? Do people ignore your complaints about being mosquito bait? Well, research has shown that mosquitoes do tend to bite some people more than others, so your notions may not be too far off. Theories abound to explain the phenomenon, but solid proof is still hard to come by.

Evidence for the Health Claim

Studies have shown that mosquitoes are attracted to some people more than others. The reasons are complex and not fully understood, but it is well-established that mosquitoes are attracted to the carbon dioxide that humans and animals exhale, as well as to body heat. Certain fragrances and dark colors (which absorb heat) tend to attract mosquitoes, as well. Using unscented lotions, deodorant, hairspray, and soaps may help keep the pesky insects away.
The clue to why mosquitoes feed on some people more than others is in the chemical attractants and subtle odors that everyone emits, but in different combinations. Recent research suggests that some people have unique compounds and mixtures that mask the “attractive” compounds that mosquitoes like. Such natural insect repellents have a very slight scent that people don’t notice, but that mosquitoes are sensitive to.
This theory differs from a previous assumption that people mosquitoes find unattractive simply lack the attractive compounds, and those who are often bitten have a special “sweet” smell.
Some people claim that diet and medication play a role in how likely they are to be bitten by mosquitoes. Although studies have not yet been conducted to examine such ideas, it seems likely that such factors could influence the chemicals and concentrations that you exhale or excrete onto your skin. So if you notice a pattern, there is no harm in adjusting your personal routine to avoid being attacked.
Also, different chemical combinations, which are activated by sweat and exposed on your skin, attract different types of mosquitoes. For example, the mosquito that carries yellow fever is attracted to lactic acid (produced by your muscles and found on the skin of humans, but not animals).

Evidence Against the Health Claim

Some argue that mosquito attractiveness does not vary from person to person, and if you think you’re a special target, it only means you’re a bit paranoid. By swatting at the same number of mosquitoes more often, you only perceive you’re under attack more than everyone else. Although this may certainly contribute to an unwarranted sense of persecution, evidence does suggest that mosquitoes really do go after some of us more than others.

Conclusion

Apparently, some people are more enticing to mosquitoes than others. So, if you think you’re “sweeter” than everyone else (at least to mosquitoes), you could be right. This may be due to the fact that other, less “desirable” people secrete a natural repellent that your body doesn’t make.
But, even if you think you’re less attractive to the opposite species, mosquitoes will never leave you completely alone. If you want to really turn them off, an insect repellent containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) comes in handy.

References

Are mosquitoes attracted to some people more than others? Citrus County Mosquito Control website. Available at: http://www.ccmosquitoes.org/faq/1.html . Accessed July 11, 2006.

Bartlet E. Why do mosquitoes bite some people more than others? Rothamstead Research website. Available at: http://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/corporate/PressReleases/Mosquitoes.html . Published January 2005. Accessed November 6, 2008.

Curiosities: why does it seem like mosquitoes are attracted to some people more than others? University of Wisconsin-Madison website. Available at: http://www.news.wisc.edu/15355 . Published June 2008. Accessed November 6, 2008

Hobson K. Do you feel like bug bait? US News and World Report website. Available at: http://www.usnews.com/usnews/health/articles/030714/14wnv.htm . Published July 2003. Accessed November 6, 2008.

Insect repellant use and safety. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/qa/insect%5Frepellent.htm . Updated May 2008. Accessed November 6, 2008.

Morris CD, Day JF. Avoiding and repelling mosquitoes and other biting nasties. Collier Mosquito Control District website. Available at http://www.collier-mosquito.org/pdf/Avoiding%5Fmosquitoes.pdf . Accessed July 11, 2006.

Mosquito Control Commission—Frequently asked questions. City of Chesapeake, VA website. Available at: http://www.chesapeake.va.us/services/depart/mosquito/faqs.shtml#attracted . Accessed November 6, 2008.

Rozell N. Losing blood in the name of science. Alaska Science Forum Article # 1495. The Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska, Fairbanks website. Available at: http://www.gi.alaska.edu/ScienceForum/ASF14/1495.html . Published June 2000. Accessed November 6, 2008.

Scheinbach S. How attractive are you? Hudson River Audubon Society of Westchester website. Available at: http://www.hras.org/sw/Sw10-03.htm . Accessed July 11, 2006.

Image Credit: Nucleus Communications, Inc.

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