Do you feel like mosquitoes make you the life of their party? Evidence shows that some people attract mosquitoes at a higher rate than others. But in the end, we're all at risk for bites. At the least, mosquitoes and their bites can be annoying, causing seemingly endless itching. At worst, mosquitoes can be deadly purveyors of dangerous diseases such as West Nile virus and malaria. So how best to protect yourself?
First, understand your enemy. According to expert Jonathan Day, a professor of medical entomology at the University of Florida in Vero Beach, studies suggest that 20 percent of people are the "high attractor types." As Day points out to NBC News, mosquitoes attack because of sight and smell signifiers. According to Day, "Mosquitoes are highly visual, especially later in the afternoon, and their first mode of search for humans is through vision." If you wear red, navy blue, or black, you are advertising yourself as a tasty target.
Next, the mosquito zeroes in on your smell. The more carbon dioxide you expel, the more appealing you are to the mosquitoes looking to use your blood as their own fertility booster. As Day tells Msnbc.com, mosquitoes are more attracted to people with higher metabolic rates, as well as to larger people and pregnant women. Why? Because they all expel more carbon dioxide. Day further points out that "Lactic acid (given off while exercising), acetone (a chemical released in your breath), and estradiol (a breakdown product of estrogen) can all be released at varying concentrations and lure in mosquitoes."
But we can't hide inside all summer. So what to do to best protect ourselves from flying biters?
Use insect repellents
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises using bug repellents that have been registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. According to the CDC, this is important because that when "the EPA registers a repellent, they evaluate the product for efficacy and potential effects on human beings and the environment." The CDC recommends products containing DEET. Further, it has found that the plant-based oil of lemon eucalyptus is found to be as effective as low concentrations of DEET. The American Mosquito Control Association cautions that repellents should be used on bare skin only sparingly, and that people should avoid applying high concentrations (more than 50 percent) of DEET on skin. Further, people should wash up after coming indoors.
Drain standing water around the home
Want to hinder mosquitoes from breeding in your backyard? Since mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, drain any water around your property. Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases, told U.S. News & World Report, "any kind of container can breed mosquitoes." So empty bird baths, buckets, flowerpots and the like. In fact, that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of things you can do to create a mosquito-free yard.
Avoid outside activity during peak mosquito hours
The CDC advises that mosquitoes are active from dusk to dawn, but especially in the early morning and evening. Take extra care with repellent or clothing at this time.
If you are going to exercise outside, beware
Heading to a picnic? You might want to stick to hanging out on the blanket. Since mosquitoes are extracted to extra body heat and carbon dioxide, the more you jump around the volleyball net, the more they will be inclined to bite you.
Check your screens
The CDC recommends that you reinforce your window screens while checking for any holes or tears the little bugs can get through. Do this for both your windows and your doors.
Cover up with clothing
The American Mosquito Control Association urges people to wear long-sleeved shirts and pants outdoors during peak mosquito activity periods. The CDC cautions that "mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing, so spraying clothes with repellent containing DEET or permethrin or another EPA-registered repellent will give extra protection." However, do not apply permethrin directly to the skin or spray repellents on the skin under your clothing.
Organize a community cleanup
The best way to get rid of mosquito breeding grounds is to clean up any trash and free-standing water in the area. According to the CDC, "Neighborhood cleanup days can be organized by civic or youth organizations to pick up containers from vacant lots and parks, and to encourage people to keep their yards free of standing water."
Ultimately, you may not be able to completely avoid mosquitoes. You might just want to kick back, relax and enjoy a cold beer — or not. Joseph Conlon, a medical entomologist and the technical adviser to the American Mosquito Control Association, told Msnbc.com that a cold one might be just as tasty to a mosquito. According to Conlon, "mosquitoes are more attracted to people after they drink a 12-ounce beer. It could be that people breathe a little harder after a cold one or their skin is a little warmer."