While it may seem like some people "taste" better to mosquitoes, there are a few other factors that place a person at a greater risk for drawing the attention of this type of insect.
"Mosquitoes are attracted by specific odors like perfume or sweat, which reminds them of plant nectar or animal flesh," explained Family Medicine physician Vidya Counto, M.D.
"Both male and female mosquitoes feed on nectar, but the females also depend on a blood meal to get the protein they need to mature their eggs. Mosquitoes seek clues from a person's body temperature, the amount of carbon dioxide in someone's breath and certain skin chemicals like lactic acid, to help them find their next meal.
"People who wear sweet-smelling fragrances or who use scented soaps, shampoos, and lotions are more likely to be bitten. Mosquitoes also prefer children rather than adults, and more infants and children are bitten by mosquitoes than any other insect. In addition, mosquitoes are more likely to bite men than women, those with type O blood and people, who are overweight."
When a mosquito stabs a victim with her needle-like mouthpart, she injects a liquid containing digestive enzymes and anticoagulants to season her meal and prevent the person's blood from clotting. The proteins in this liquid are the cause of the allergic reaction that is called a mosquito bite.
Be Aware of Peak Mosquito Hours
The hours from dusk to dawn are peak mosquito biting times for many species of mosquitoes, and the problem is worse when the weather is hot or humid.
"A person's first mosquito bite doesn't cause any reaction, but it does sensitize the body to the foreign proteins," Dr. Counto advised. "The next few bites are usually the worst as the body fights these invading proteins. Future reactions depend on the individual's sensitivity to the insect's saliva. Some people have no reaction at all, while others experience itching, bumps or redness that may be associated with fever or joint pain.
"Babies and very young children often experience more redness and swelling when they get bitten. In most cases, people become more desensitized over time and the bite causes less irritation. However, there are those that develop a greater sensitivity with every bite."
"Don't scratch a mosquito bite," Dr. Counto said. "Your immune system interprets scratching as a call for more antibodies to fight the foreign proteins. The more you scratch, the more the bite will itch and the longer it will take to go away. You also run the risk of breaking the skin and winding up with an infection or a scar."
Once bitten, the mainstays of treatment are cool compresses, anti-itching compounds, and anti-inflammatory medicines. "For a cool compress, apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel or soak a washcloth in cold water and press it on the bite," Dr. Counto suggested.
Other "home remedies" include dabbing a bit of roll-on antiperspirant directly on the bug bite to stop the itching, as the aluminum salts in the antiperspirant are reported to help the body to reabsorb the fluid in the bug bite.
There are also plenty of itch-reducing pastes, creams and lotions that can be used. "The simplest anti-itching compound is a paste made of baking soda and water," Dr. Counto added. "Use just enough water to make a sticky paste, and spread it on the bite. Calamine lotion works in a similar way, and usually offers longer relief. Topical steroid creams of various strengths can also be useful. If you are not sure what type of itch-reducing product to use, check with your physician."
For the anti-inflammatory part of treatment, ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) or naproxen (Alleve) can reduce redness, pain, itching, swelling and fever.
Tips To Prevent Bites
"When outdoors, wear clothing that keeps as much of the skin covered as is practical," Dr. Counto suggested. "In addition, try to avoid wearing bright, floral colors and stick with light-colored clothing that has no particular attraction for mosquitoes.
"Avoid playing outdoors during these peak biting times," Dr. Counto recommended. "Exercise boosts the body's temperature and the levels of carbon dioxide and lactic acid, which all act as mosquito magnets. Insects are also attracted to sweet-smelling foods, beverages, perfume, cologne or scented products."
There are plenty of bug repellents that can make the skin unattractive to a hungry mosquito, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using an insect repellent on exposed areas of skin. The most effective repellants include the compound DEET; however, these products should be used sparingly on children.
"DEET will help protect a person from bites or stings by flies, gnats, chiggers, ticks, and mosquitoes," Dr. Counto concluded. "However, DEET doesn't work against yellow jackets, hornets or honeybees. Also, it is important to understand that insect repellants don't stop mosquitoes from landing, only from biting."
"When using an insect repellant, cover exposed areas of the skin, but be careful to keep the repellent away from the eyes and mouth. Don't apply DEET under clothes, or too much of the toxic substance may be absorbed. Also, avoid applying repellent to portions of the hands that are likely to come in contact with the eyes and mouth."
Vidya Counto, M.D. is a Family Medicine physician affiliated with Salem Community Hospital's active medical staff and the Columbiana Family Care Center at 750 East Park Avenue in Columbiana, 330-482-3871.