July 01, 2016

View as List How to Prevent Mosquito Bites

  • How to Prevent Mosquito Bites

    Avoid the swatting and itching—and the risk of mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile virus and Zika virus—with this savvy survival guide.

  • 1

    Why do mosquitoes bite?

    Mosquitoes technically don’t “bite,” but rather draw blood through a syringe-like appendage on their heads. Only females do this because they need blood to reproduce.

  • 2

    What causes the itch?

    When a female mosquito lands on your skin, she injects her saliva, which contains a protein that keeps your blood from coagulating and triggers an immune response, resulting in an itchy red welt.

  • 3

    Why do mosquitoes prefer certain people?

    Mosquitoes are attracted to hundreds of chemicals we secrete, as well as our body heat and movement. Everyone produces the same chemicals, but different proportions of them may make a person more, or less, appealing. And different species are attracted to different chemicals. Some compounds actually conceal us from mosquitoes. Researchers are trying to identify these masking compounds in hopes of developing a new generation of repellents.

  • 4

    How concerned should I be about West Nile virus?

    West Nile virus, which is spread by mosquitoes that have fed on infected birds, is on the rise since it first appeared in the U.S. in 1999. But even in areas where the virus is reported, your risk of becoming infected is very small. Moreover, fewer than 1 percent of infected people will develop the severe form of the disease involving inflammation of the brain or spinal cord. About 20 percent develop only flu-like symptoms; up to 80 percent don’t get sick at all.

  • 5

    How can I avoid getting "bitten"?

    Wear long sleeves and pants (loose-fitting) as well as socks. When mosquitoes are out (they are most active at dawn and dusk and after it rains), use a repellent containing DEET. For ordinary purposes, 10 to 30 percent DEET concentration is adequate. Another effective repellent is picaridin. You can also spray clothes (not skin) with permethrin, or wear permethrin-treated garments. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is as effective as low concentration DEET, but other botanical preparations provide very limited protection, if any. Citronella candles probably offer no more protection than any candle smoke.

  • 6

    Do B vitamins or garlic repel mosquitoes?

    No. This idea about taking B vitamins has not held up in studies. There’s no evidence that eating garlic or any other food helps, either.

  • 7

    How can I control mosquitoes around my house?

    Mosquitoes breed in standing water, so remove or empty anything in your yard that can collect water, such as hollow logs, empty flower pots and pet dishes. Clean out clogged rain gutters. Drill holes in the bottom of outside garbage or recycling containers. Make sure screens on windows and doors fit tightly and have no holes. Try yellow “bug lights” on decks and porches; they attract fewer mosquitoes than regular lights.

  • 8

    Do devices help?

    Zappers mostly kill moths and flies, and hardly any mosquitoes. Also, a study showed that zappers spray insect parts, including bacteria and viruses, up to seven feet away. Ultrasonic devices emit high-frequency sounds to chase mosquitoes, but studies show them to be ineffective. Mosquito traps (like the Mosquito Magnet) emit carbon dioxide and other chemicals that attract mosquitoes, which are then sucked inside. Their performance depends on many variables, so they may not trap enough bugs to make a noticeable difference. Because mosquitoes are weak flyers, a good option is a powerful fan.

  • 9

    How can I treat an itchy "bite"?

    Apply ice, and try not to scratch. Ammonium solutions (in many after-bite products) provide some relief. Calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream may also help. If you are sensitive to mosquitoes, taking antihistamines before you go out may lessen reactions to stings. Everyone seems to have a favorite home remedy—vinegar, Vicks VapoRub, lemon juice, lavender oil, toothpaste or a baking soda or meat tenderizer paste. There’s no science behind them, but some may have anti-inflammatory or other soothing effects.