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Are you a mosquito magnet?

Personal health · Aug 6, 2021

Aaah, the great outdoors in the summer sun and warmth, more so after a year of pandemic restrictions. For all the summer pleasures there is also one pesky little annoyance – mosquitoes – especially if you seem to be a magnet for the little critters.

Some folks are just more susceptible to getting bitten. Genetics account for about 85% of our susceptibility to mosquito bites. Fortunately, unlike those of bees, mosquito bites are rarely life threatening.

And there are easy steps you can take to help make the insects buzz off.

The first layer of protection is using a repellent. Some natural products on the market include one with 10-30% lemon eucalyptus oil. Its duration of protection is about 2-5 hours and it is safe for children 3 years of age and older. Another product contains 2% soybean oil that may protect for up to 4 hours. Finally, a product with 5-15% concentration of citronella oil can provide about 30 minutes of relief.

But if you plan on being in a particularly pesky area, the experts recommend using DEET. The insects are more prevalent around water, so take extra precautions near lakes, creeks and even pools to avoid getting bitten. DEET is also effective against ticks, which cause Lyme disease, so you'll want to use it as well when in wooded or grassy areas.

DEET has a good safety record. But it’s important to follow the directions for its use. Stick with a product that contains less than 30% DEET.

A 10% concentration may ward off insects for about two hours. Use judiciously on children, and the product cannot be used on babies under 6 months of age. Insect repellents should never be applied to cuts or on irritated skin.

Avoid products that combine DEET with sunscreen, because if you swim or sweat, you may inadvertently be reapplying the DEET too often. DEET also decreases the efficacy of your sunscreen. The Canadian Dermatology Association recommends applying sunscreen first, and waiting 20 minutes for the product to soak into your skin before applying DEET.

Once you've come inside, it's important to wash the DEET off your skin to be sure that it's not left on for prolonged periods of time.

Another layer of protection is commercially available insecticide (permethrin) treated clothing. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that the amount of permethrin allowed in clothing is too low to pose a health risk to humans. Wilderness medicine experts also advise that insecticide-treated clothing provides contact-level insecticidal effects and better, longer-lasting protection against mosquitoes and ticks than topical DEET or picaridin alone.

While it still hasn’t been determined what mosquitoes consider an ideal meal, there are three things that attract them to you: carbon dioxide, your body chemistry and heat.

Adults will often be bitten more than children because larger bodies exhale more carbon dioxide. Pregnant women and people who are exercising are generally warmer and also give off more carbon dioxide to attract the pests.

There are some non-chemical things you can do to help you avoid becoming a mosquito magnet, including changing your diet. Eating a lot of yogurt or other dairy products causes your body to release lactic acid or other acidic chemicals – and this attracts mosquitoes.

So it may be beneficial to avoid dairy in large quantities. There are some food items that are known to repel mosquitoes (perhaps people too!) – particularly garlic.

Cholesterol or other fatty substances on the skin, such as lotions, will also attract the pests.

Fortunately, a mosquito bite cannot transmit the SARSCoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, but there are infections, such as the West Nile virus, that you can guard against by taking simple mosquito repellent precautions.

Authored by:
Dr. Rhonda Low
Family physician, TELUS Health Care Centres

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