An insecticide-treated net is rolled up above a bed in Kumi, Uganda. At night, unfurled, it will protect the sleeper from disease-carrying mosquitoes.

An insecticide-treated net is rolled up above a bed in Kumi, Uganda. At night, unfurled, it protects the sleeper from disease-carrying mosquitoes. 

by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

I have a good friend who claims he rarely gets bitten by mosquitoes. While others around him are swatting and scratching, he sits in comfort enjoying the great outdoors.

How can that be? And what mosquito-bite prevention techniques can we mere mortals use to keep these bloodsuckers—and sometimes disease carriers—at bay?

Why Mosquitoes Really May Bite You More

My friend isn’t imagining things. It is true that mosquitoes prefer some people more than others. Here’s why you may get bitten more than your friends:

  • You emit more carbon dioxide. Mosquitoes are attracted to the carbon dioxide you exhale. They can detect it from over 100 yards away. Although everyone obviously has to breathe, pregnant women and people who are obese or doing physical exercise emit more CO2 than others. So they’re more likely to get bitten.
  • You’ve got that certain je ne sais quoi. Mosquitoes are also attracted to many poorly understood natural chemicals on some people’s skin. About 80 percent of this is genetic.
  • You have high cholesterol. Certain studies have shown other attractions to be an increased concentration of high uric acid or high cholesterol on the skin—another good reason besides gout (uric acid) and heart disease (cholesterol) to try to lower these with diet and medication.
  • You’ve been imbibing. Studies show that people who have been drinking tend to get more mosquito bites.

So, if you don’t want to get bitten, just sit outside and don’t move, except maybe to drink a little water. Oh, and don’t be pregnant. Hmm. OK, here are some more reasonable tips.

4 Simple Ways to Prevent Mosquito Bites

Whether you’re a mosquito magnet or an occasional bitee, using barriers is one of the simplest, commonsensical and all-natural ways to stay bump free. Barriers include:

  • Clothes. And don’t forget socks and hats. Cover as much skin as possible, though beware of overheating. Since mosquitoes can still bite through material, I believe loose-fitting clothes are generally best.
  • Window screens. If you keep windows or doors open, get screening.

Another easy way to deter these bloodsuckers is to turn on a fan. Mosquitoes don’t like wind.

And, of course, there’s insect repellent that you can put on your skin or clothes, depending on the product. In my next post, I’ll examine some popular ones—from natural to heavy duty—and tell you which I plan to use.

Popular Mosquito Repellents That Don’t Work That Well

But wait, you say. What about citronella? Plants such as citronella, catmint, marigolds, and geraniums are pretty, and it’s true that mosquitoes don’t like them. But having them around doesn’t do much to keep you from getting bitten. The odors disperse into the air and dilute. The same with citronella candles.

As for bug zappers, don’t use them. They kill many more of the useful bugs than mosquitoes.

Other trap-like devices and products you spray into the air are not effective either.

Besides insect repellents (which we’ll get into next time), what’s your tried-and-true method for preventing mosquito bites?



Photo courtesy CDC/ Theresa Roebuck, Health Communication Specialist, OD.