Some people are tastier to mosquitoes than others. To avoid being bitten and catching diseases like West Nile, dengue, malaria or Zika, your body chemistry and what you eat may be a factor.

How you smell determines your proclivity toward attracting mosquitoes. Scientists know that 85% of our susceptibility to mosquito bites is genetic. Trillions of microbes reside in our skin, causing sweat and body odor, putting out the welcome mat for these feisty pests. Mosquitoes can smell dinner from a distance of up to 50 meters.

Certain elements in our body chemistry like steroids, cholesterol, uric acid, and lactic acid from sweat glands attract them. Interestingly, it's been shown that Limburger cheese, whose scent replicates human body odor, is a strong mosquito attractant. Heat, moisture and movement also act as lures, as does blood type. It was shown that the most attracted blood type is Type O, the least attracted, Type A.

Joe Conlon, PhD, technical advisor to the American Mosquito Control Association says,

There’s a tremendous amount of research being conducted on what compounds and odors people exude that might be attractive to mosquitoes. Researchers are just beginning to scratch the surface.

In 201l, scientists conducted a study, attracting Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes (there are 175 known species of mosquito in the United States alone). That determined that those subjects who attracted mosquitoes had more than twice the concentration of one common skin microbe and more than three times the concentration of another microbe than the group that mosquitoes avoided. Those who turned off the mosquitoes had a more diverse colony of bacteria on their skin.

aedes aegypti mosquito
Aedes aegypti Mosquito, the Species that Spreads the Zika Virus

Recently, scientists have looked into the affects of how smell influences the Aedes aegypt mosquito, the species that spreads dengue and Zika. They found that lactic acid (found in milk, cheese and naturally produced by our bodies) mixed with carbon dioxide, as we exhale, attracts the female of this species. Larger people and pregnant women produce greater-than-normal exhaled carbon dioxide and, thus, attract these mosquitoes. The most vulnerable to the virus are the most susceptible.

These findings may one day lead to the development of new mosquito attractants and personalized methods of protection from infectious disease. Mosquitoes have been around for 170 million years and mankind is still trying to learn how to live with them.

Nancy Loyan Schuemann

Nancy Loyan Schuemann is a writer specializing in architecture, safes, profiles, histories and a multi-published fiction and non-fiction author and is Nailah, Middle Eastern dancer.

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