- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2006

Fidgety folks are pretty attractive, and if you’re not only restless, but have smelly feet and drink beer to boot, your blood can smell pretty sweet to a female mosquito.

Attractants such as these help explain why mosquitoes are drawn to humans, says Joseph Conlon, technical adviser at American Mosquito Control Association, based in New Jersey.

Indeed, the flying suckers are in abundance in the metro area, especially after last month’s heavy rain created pools of stagnant water where mosquitoes could breed. Now, their larvae have hatched and are planning an attack at a back yard near you.

“The best repellent in the world is the one you’re going to use,” says Mr. Conlon, who served in the Navy for nearly 20 years as a medical entomologist.

Although annoying bug bites can be considered just a summertime rite of passage, there are some methods that everyone from gardeners to physicians endorse to outsmart mosquitoes.

“The way to control mosquitoes is on an individual-responsibility basis,” Mr. Conlon says.

Before mosquitoes can be controlled, however, the one-sided attraction of the mosquito-human relationship must be understood.

Female mosquitoes (the males don’t bite) drive their feeding stylets through the skin hoping to strike a blood vessel. They simultaneously release their saliva into the human, which produces an allergic reaction that causes itching and swelling.

“Mosquitoes are born looking for your blood,” says Robert Pritchard, a garden supervisor at the U.S. Botanic Garden who also gardens at his home in Laurel. “I could go into a room with a thousand people, and I’d be the first one to get bit.”

Because everyone’s body chemistry is unique, mosquitoes prefer some people over others.

There are particular factors — like the smell of beer, dirty feet and the appeal of fidgety people — that research has proved attracts mosquitoes. Stagnant water is still the biggest attractant for the hydrophilic insects.

Thus, Mr. Conlon suggests the first step in a three-tier prevention technique: drain. Empty any standing water on your property, including in gutters, flowerpot drains, air conditioner drip pans and tarps covering wood piles. Even bottle caps lying about the deck or yard collecting water make ideal breeding spots for mosquitoes.

Because temperature affects mosquito behavior, Mr. Conlon says mosquitoes are especially active an hour before and after dawn and dusk.

“You’re asking for trouble at twilight,” says Dr. Lisa Kauffman, chief of dermatology at Georgetown University Hospital. “If you know you’ll be out for a while, plan accordingly. Clothing can physically act as a barrier.”

Exposed skin isn’t the only target; mosquitoes can bite through the fabric of clothes that fit tightly. Thus, Mr. Conlon says, the second method of prevention against mosquito bites is to wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing and “long pants and sleeves if you can stand it.”

The third step Mr. Conlon endorses is defense, whether that involves slathering exposed skin with bug repellent or actively defending your home against mosquito invasion.

Mr. Conlon suggests using floor fans on the deck or patio to create air flow around human gatherings, as mosquitoes are poor fliers. Citronella candles and tiki torches also are good deterrents because the “smoke befuddles the mosquitoes, and the heat tends to draw [them] away from the humans,” Mr. Conlon says.

Though candles, torches and fans might be sufficient defense in some places, in other back yards and parks they won’t adequately thwart mosquitoes’ feeding habits. Mr. Pritchard says he has citronella candles and scented plants such as geraniums on his deck to counter the human release of carbon dioxide that mosquitoes smell.

“Some people can get away with putting scented rosemary around their waist [or] anything to mask their smell,” says Mr. Pritchard, who rubs repellent containing Deet on his socks, waistline, hem and shirt collar rather than directly on his skin.

Despite some consumers’ hesitation to apply Deet, the product is still the gold standard in mosquito repellent. Mr. Conlon says the main objections to Deet are cosmetic issues such as the strong smell and feel of the lotion. However, it is still the most effective repellent against all kinds of biting insects, not just mosquitoes, he says.

To maximize its effectiveness, Deet must be applied — and reapplied when sweating or in water — according to the label instructions. It also is important to apply Deet only as directed to avoid contact with the eyes and mouth. It shouldn’t be used on infants younger than 3 months.

Dr. Kauffman says repellent containing 20 percent to 23 percent Deet is the appropriate concentration for up to five hours of protection; however, she says when you know you’ll be in the woods or at a place near water all day, you shouldn’t rely solely on Deet repellent, but also dress appropriately.

Certainly, people who are prone to severe allergic reactions caused by mosquito bites should take extra precaution and care in applying repellent. Dr. Kauffman says some of the warning signs that a mosquito bite may be more than just an irritating red bump include headache, neck stiffness, fever, body aches, nausea and vomiting. At this point, she recommends immediate medical attention, as infection or disease may have been transmitted through the bite.

To relieve the itching, Dr. Kauffman suggests applying ice to the bite for several minutes at a time, which also reduces inflammation. The average person also can find relief by using a prescription steroid ointment of medium strength or calamine lotion.

Although treating bug bites is important, both Dr. Kauffman and Mr. Conlon stress the importance of prevention, especially because mosquitoes can carry serious diseases and viruses, including West Nile virus.

Indeed, to protect yourself from mosquitoes, you must know their habits.

“Mosquitoes are more active with a full moon out,” Mr. Conlon says. “They’re vampires in their own way.”

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