Summer enemy #1

Most summertime rituals, such as a friend’s barbecue, heading to Balaton, hiking in the woods or even a campout, are a lot of fun. Unfortunately, uninvited guests often make these events memorable for all the wrong reasons, leaving us itching and scratching from mosquito bites. Does this mean we should avoid the outdoors? Not a chance, but what is to be done?

Public enemy #1 … the mosquito

The most common types of itchy bites in summer are from the mosquito. While we don’t yet need to worry about malaria or the Zika and West Nile viruses getting passed to us in Hungary, mosquito bites can be quite annoying with their strong desire to be scratched. It’s the proteins in the mosquito’s saliva that trigger the mild allergic reaction from the immune system, leading to inflammation and that itching feeling. While you may be tempted to have a go at that bite with your fingernails, scratching will only make it worse because then your body will release compounds from the immune system that create more swelling and itching.

Not all mosquitoes are out for our blood … just the females. These hunt for blood because it is the protein source needed for laying more eggs; an even better reason to squash that “mommy” before she has time to create her brood. When biting, the tip of her mouth injects a protein from the saliva into the attacked area to prevent clotting and make it easier for her to enjoy the bloody feast. It is this protein that causes the annoying reaction with which most of us are familiar.

Why me but not my friend?

Ever notice while you are out hiking or dining with a friend that you’re the only one they seem to be going after? There is a reason for this and it isn’t your magnetic personality. Scientists estimate that about 20% of the human population are especially delicious meals for mosquitoes, and therefore wind up getting bitten more often. And people with Type O blood are bitten almost twice as much as Type A; Type B falls somewhere in between.

If you don’t know your own blood type, how does a mosquito know?

Sadly, it’s your genes that betray you. Nearly 85% of humans secrete a chemical that can be sensed by a mosquito, telling them which blood type will be on the dinner menu. I guess that’s a pretty annoying gene to have. Another way in which you can place a target on your back is just by breathing. Mosquitoes can detect carbon dioxide from as far as 50 meters! Bonus points if you are a large person since you’ll exhale more CO2 than someone smaller.

Those mosquitoes are smart, too. At close range, they have the ability to sense movement and heat. Flip on the lights to hunt down that buzzing intruder and they’re already hidden … until you turn the lights back off. On those hot summer nights, your sweat glands are working overtime, making you an easy target.

Want to cool down with a cold beer after a hard workout or run? I’ve got some bad news for you. Researchers are not exactly sure why, but they are pretty certain it isn’t the increased ethanol in sweat that draws them in, but they do have a correlation between beer and bites. The scientists have also found that the irresistible combination of increased CO2 exhalation and secreted uric and lactic acids, which come after a hard workout, will make you stand out as a tasty meal.

Help, I’ve been bitten!

It is pretty difficult to make it through spring and summer without picking up at least a few bites. The following are a few tips to help you relieve the annoying itching that comes from a mosquito bite.

Top anti-itch tips

  • Make an oatmeal paste by mixing equal amounts of oatmeal and water in a bowl. Spoon some of the paste onto a washcloth and hold it – paste-side down – on the irritated skin for about ten minutes. Then rinse the area.
  • Some say that a dab of honey applied to the bite can soothe skin because it is a natural antibiotic. It can also prevent infections if you have scratched your bite open with fingernails that aren’t clean.
  • Vinegar also has anti-itch benefits due to the acidity. Vinegar will reduce swelling and take away that huge urge to scratch.
  • A trick I learned from lifehacker.com is to press a hot spoon against the bite as soon as it appears. The heat will destroy the protein that causes the itching and swelling.

Keeping mosquitoes away

Besides keeping a well-exercised, beer-drinking, blood Type O horse staked to your front lawn, drawing off any lurking mosquitoes, there are some other tricks to ward off these bloodsuckers. Here are some of the best and easiest solutions outside of a chemical repellant.

  • The wind. Any wind greater than 1.5km/h makes it very difficult for a mosquito to fly. If you want an undisturbed sleep, get a fan and they won’t have a chance to land.
  • Forget about citronella candles; surround yourself with plants that repel … mosquitoes. Lavender, basil, peppermint and even sage all have something mosquitoes don’t like. Who couldn’t use more basil or peppermint around the home?
  • Wear tightly woven clothes that they can’t bite through. Also the lighter (color) the better. Too bad no one wants to wear tightly woven clothes in summer.
  • Know their schedule. Try avoiding dusk and dawn, which is usually when winds are at their least and mosquitoes are out hunting.

Mosquitoes are annoying pests that no one likes. Slapping your arms and legs all night long during a summer’s party is no one’s idea of fun. Knowing how and why they are coming for you and what to do if you’re bitten can help make things better or avoid it all together.

Did You Know?

  • There are over 3,500 different types of mosquitoes.
  • Mosquito is a Spanish word meaning “little fly”.
  • Females can lay up to 300 eggs at a time, which are usually laid on the surface of stagnant water.
  • Mosquito eggs need water to hatch. Tiny embryos live in water for about 10 days before pupating into mosquitoes.
  • Adult mosquitoes can live for up to two months.
  • DEET is an effective mosquito repellent, and picaridin and lemon-eucalyptus oil are also recommended mosquito repellents.
  • Mosquito traps are proven methods for controlling mosquitoes, though no single method is 100% effective.