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Are You a Mosquito Magnet?

Experts try to crack the code behind why mosquitoes like some people more than others. Plus, tips on keeping mosquitoes at bay and the best mosquito repellents.

Driving Mosquitoes Away

Hate to spray or slather yourself with any product, either chemical- or plant-based, but want to prevent mosquitoes from landing on you?

Mosquito traps, a relatively new product, may be the answer. They work by emitting substances that biting mosquitoes find attractive -- such as carbon dioxide, heat, moisture, and other mosquito-friendly byproducts. They attract, then trap or kill female mosquitoes. When placed strategically near breeding spots, "they have knocked [mosquito] populations down," Conlon tells WebMD.

One new fad in mosquito protection doubles as a fashion statement. It’s insect shield repellent apparel -- clothing infused with the chemical insecticide permethrin. Marketed as a must-have for outdoor enthusiasts, Conlon says the military has used this method for several years. “I wore them in the jungles of South Africa; I would recommend them to anyone going out into the woods,” he tells WebMD.

Take time to look at the big picture — in your yard, that is. It’s part of a process that Greg Baumann, senior scientist with the National Pest Management Association Inc., calls integrated pest management, and it involves identifying invasive pests in your surroundings and taking corrective actions against them. This means finding and eliminating standing water, which serves as an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes. Clogged gutters, the crevices of plastic toys, garbage cans, rain barrels without screened covers, and bird baths are some of the biggest neighborhood breeding grounds, Baumann says.

How Risky Are Mosquito Bites?

A mosquito bite can mean much more than a few days of itching. For some people, they can cause  severe allergic reactions. Plus, there are mosquito-transmitted illnesses. The West Nile virus made its first appearance in the U.S. in 1999. That year, New York confirmed 62 cases and seven deaths. By 2008, the number of cases had escalated substantially. In 2008 alone, the CDC reported 1,356 cases of West Nile throughout the U.S. and 44 deaths. In 2009 and 2010, outbreaks of dengue fever were reported in the U.S. Then there’s malaria, an oft-forgotten mosquito-transmitted disease. “We don’t think about it, but a million people worldwide die of malaria every year,” Baumann says. 

Although malaria outbreaks in the U.S. are few and far between, the same can’t be said for West Nile, which Conlon says "is probably here to stay." And with it, the age-old, ever-adaptable mosquito.

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Reviewed on January 31, 2012
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