Summer’s tiny blood-sucking curse: the mosquito

Mosquitoes (or “mozzies” as we call them in Australia) and summer go together, especially when it is hot, humid and still. Mozzies can play havoc with your sleep at night, cover the children with itchy bites, and ruin a perfectly good picnic.  Here are ten things you might not know about these blood-sucking, heat-seeking, sleep-wrecking insects.

1. Mosquitoes are more than a nuisance - they can also carry disease.

In Australia, particularly in the northern regions, mosquitoes are responsible for the spread of dangerous diseases such as Dengue fever, Ross River fever, Australian encephalitis, and Barmah Forest virus. In other countries, mosquitoes infect millions of people each year with life-threatening malaria.

2. Mosquitoes breed in water.

The female mosquito lays her eggs (up to 300 at a time) in still water, and the eggs hatch and grow in the water for about ten days. That’s why it’s important to tidy your outdoor area to ensure that water trapped in birdbaths, pot plant saucers, buckets, old tyres, or even the dog’s water bowl doesn’t become a breeding ground for mozzies.  

3. Only female mosquitoes bite.

Male and female mosquitoes feed on water and plant nectar, but the female needs the protein in blood to help her eggs develop. She can drink up to three times her body weight in blood.

4. Mosquitoes are attracted to some people more than others.

Mosquitoes are attracted to the chemicals on and around our skin, such as the smell of carbon monoxide in our breath, lactic acid from sweat, skin lotions or perfumes, etc. They are also attracted to the heat from our bodies, so any activity that raises the body temperature will attract mozzies. Studies have shown that pregnant women, who have a slightly higher body temperature, are more likely to be bitten. And there’s some evidence that shows mozzies prefer one type of blood (O) over others (A or B). 

5. People’s reactions to mozzies vary

Most people react to the bite of a mosquito with a red, itchy bump (commonly known in Australian parlance as an “itchy bite”). Itchy bites are caused by a reaction of the body’s immune system to the saliva of the mosquito.  Some people, however, and especially children, are more allergic to bites and develop inflamed, red weals that can take days to recover. If mosquito bites seem to be associated with fever or headaches, consult a doctor.

6. Don’t scratch!

Just as our mothers used to tell us as kids, scratching the itchy bite will only make it worse, and this is completely true. Scratching inflames and irritates the area even more, and then there is the potential for infection from the bacteria under our fingernails. A quick way to stop the itch is to pop a piece of ice directly on the bite. Another solution is to dab a blob of soothing calamine lotion onto the inflamed area.

7. Dark clothing attracts mozzies

Wearing dark clothing seems to attract more mosquitoes, possibly because mosquitoes are heat-seekers, and dark clothing retains more heat. Mosquitoes can also bite through tightly-fitting clothing. So if you’re outside in the danger zones of dusk or dawn, you’re better off in light coloured, loosely-fitted long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.

8. Repellent 

Mosquito repellent containing DEET (diethyltoluamide) is safe, effective and used worldwide as the most effective protection against mosquito bites. Picaridin and extract of lemon eucalyptus are two other chemicals proven to be effective. Whether a roll-on, aerosol of pump spray, apply the repellent thinly but evenly to all exposed areas of skin. Depending on the strength, you will need to reapply in a couple of hours. To apply repellent onto children, put some on your hands and then apply a thin, even layer to the exposed skin areas. Note: don’t use repellents on infants, or let children to get it onto their hands or faces. Avoid applying repellent on sunburn, cuts, scratches or rashes.

9. Coils and zappers

Mosquito coils, particularly ones containing insecticide, can be effective in outdoor areas, while electric vapour units or “mozzie zappers” with slow release mats or liquid, work well to control mosquitoes inside. Botanical formulations such as citronella, melaleuca or tea tree have been shown to have only limited effect in controlling mosquitoes.

10. Protect your home

As well as the use of personal repellents, there are other ways to protect you and your family from mozzies. Fit fly screens to windows, doorways and balconies (which have the added advantage of keeping flies out of the house too), install ceiling fans or portable fans, or put mosquitoes net around beds to ensure restful, mozzie-free summer nights.   

Play it safe with mosquitoes this summer and keep illness at bay. If you should need urgent medical care over the holidays, when GP Practices are closed, you can book an after hours doctor home visit by visiting 13SICK.com.au, using the 13SICK App, or by calling 13SICK (13 7425).

References:

Beating the Bite of Mosquito-Borne Disease by Dr Cameron Webb, University of Sydney and Westmead Hospital
Mosquito Bites – symptoms and causes Mayo Clinic Patient Care and Health Information
Why do Mosquitoes Bite Some People More than Others? The SmithsonianMag.com


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