Monday, March 25, 2013

Bite Me

No, actually, please don't.
I'm talking to you, Mosquitoes!

You've probably gathered from any of my previous posts that I really like it here.  That everything is GREAT!  That's it's beautiful and I have all this time to feel rejuvenated and cook healthy food and blah blah blahbidy blah.  Yeah, you know, all the stuff that you are sitting at your computer reading about while secretly wanting to shoot me in my stupid, smiling mouth.

Well, I'm gonna throw you a bone here so you can stop hating me for just a second.

Apparently, about 10% of the human population is very attractive to mosquitoes...
Guess who's reeeeealllll special?

Yep, I'm a 10 percenter and I freaking hate it.

All whining aside, it hasn't been as bad here as it's been for me in the past.  When I was living in West Africa in 1997, I once counted over 70 bites on the back of my thigh.  I literally cried myself to sleep a few nights because the itching was so bad.  When I used to visit my family up in Washington State, I remember getting welts the size of the palm of my hand.  Puerto Rico has been tame in comparison but I never understood why I seemed to be more attractive than others to these annoying critters and had such a strong allergic reaction to their bites.

"You're just sweeter" says Tommy (my fiance) which is cute and all but infuriating at the same time.  He's got some kind of natural immunity to mosquitoes.  On the rare occasion that he does get bit, it MIGHT itch for an hour or something and then it just goes away. That lucky jerk.

Since we live in an age of technology, I decided to take to the interweb and get down to the bottom of this.  Here is what I found:

Their Main Food Source is NOT Blood
Wait. What?
Yeah, it's true. I guess male and female mosquitoes mostly eat nectars and other sugar sources for their own nourishment.  It's the female mosquitoes that need a "blood meal" in order to lay eggs.  Once she's had enough blood, she'll rest a few days and then lay eggs.

Stagnant Water is the Enemy
Most people know this but I'll repeat it just in case you forgot---mosquitoes have to lay eggs in a water source.  This means that the kiddy pool in your backyard may be your own personal mosquito breeding farm.  I'm not coming to  your house for wine night anymore....

Once the eggs are laid, it takes anywhere from 5-14 days for them to develop (egg, larvae, pupae) into an "adult mosquito" and it's typically within a few days after emerging from the pupal state that they will usually mate.

And you thought your 13-year old was growing up too fast!
Are these mosquitoes listening to too much Ke$ha while in the larval stage or something?!
Please, please no.  
Mosquitoes are kind of Freaky
When they do mate, the males create a swarm and the female flies directly into the swarm.  How does that work?  Does she have multiple partners?  How can she even see which male is the most worthy if they are all swarming around?  What is considered impressive and "mate worthy"?  Are you starting to feel as uncomfortable as I am about how much I am thinking about the sex life of mosquitoes?

I can only guess it's somewhat similar to what it would feel like to be Megan Fox walking into a dark nightclub full of 17 year old dudes.  
Oh boy(s).

They Don't Inject You With Poison
When a females bites a mammal to drink their blood, she injects a little of her saliva into the blood stream so it is easier for her to drink.  When she flies away, some of that saliva remains and your body creates a reaction to it (histamine is released) and the welt that ensues is determined by your immune response.  So basically, my immune system likes to get a bit carried away.  

So Why do they Like Me and Not Tommy?
Mosquitoes are attracted to potential blood meals, (aka YOU, Me and other mammals) by sight and smell.  
Sight wise, they like bright colors or black and are attracted to light.
So I'll stop wearing neon and a flashlight around my neck.  Simple.

The smell part is a bit more tricky. Personal chemistry plays a huge part here--scientists say that genetics make up 85% of why a mosquito may be attracted to you.  
They are attracted to carbon dioxide which is emitted when you exhale or more so when you exert yourself. So try not to jump around, run away or do that "twerking" dance thing that is getting a lot of attention right now.  No, I am not secretly practicing how to twerk when I am home alone.

That would be ridiculous...ummm, yeah.

But I back to SMELL!  They are also attracted to lactic acid and cholesterol on skin.  Lactic acid is emitted from  your muscles when you exercise.  The amount of cholesterol on your skin isn't tied to the cholesterol level that may come up on a test from the Dr's office, but is a result of being efficient at processing it and leaves byproducts on the surface of the skin.  I do have great cholesterol levels, so maybe that plays a part for me.  I also like to work out but haven't always so I don't know about that part in terms of my apparently irresistible scent.

Stress plays a role too.  People with high stress levels emit a smell that makes them unfavorable to the mosquito.  So here's another reason you can hate on my current stage of by-choice unemployment. Each day I relax, I'm more attractive to mosquitoes because I emit less of a "stressy smell".  

From what I've read, Scientists were able to pinpoint about 7 different chemical smells that made people either more or less attractive to the bug.  I could only find interesting info about the ones I mentioned above though.  

So What Am I Going to Do About Smelling Delicious?
After the 70 bites on the back of my thigh incident, I made a pact with the DEET devil that it could deform me or my future child in some way so long as I had protection from ever feeling that way again.    I still feel guilty about that.  For the rest of the year I spent in Ghana, I sprayed that terrible stuff on EVERYTHING.  I really hope it doesn't come back to haunt me. 

Nowadays, I like to go a more organic route.  I've been exploring things like foods one can eat to repel them.  Apparently garlic is good.  I eat a lot of garlic.  Garlic can also be good for repelling potential new friends, existing friends and fiances though.  Hmmm...

The most hopeful thing I found in my research was that the essential oil of Lemon Eucalyptus has proven to be just as effective if not MORESO than low levels of DEET.  That's impressive.  I found a cool little store in Old San Juan that sells a handmade blend of this oil among other oils that are supposed to repel insects and soothe existing bites.  Tried it out for the first time last night and it worked  good on my ankles but I didn't spray my knees and did still get bites there.  My guess is that it may need to be reapplied often too.  The smell is very similar to a Citronella candle, which I don't mind, but can be a bit much for others.  I'm going to experiment with it more as I'd really like to never use DEET again, if possible.
(UPDATE: I've found a number of natural products that DO work.  However, you must be absolutely religious about re-application and if you are planning on spending a significant time at an outside event or camping, you just have to use the chemical stuff).

I've heard from a number of sources who say that with time you develop a tolerance or an immunity to the bites.  I mean, how else would people who live in tropical climates their whole life be able to deal?  Have you ever seen someone who was born in Puerto Rico, Thailand or Mexico whining about bites?  I haven't.  I pray this will be the case for me and that within several months (boo hoo) that I will have developed my tolerance.  
(UPDATE: I just hit my TWO year anniversary living in the Carribean and sadly, I STILL get bitten on an almost daily basis.  My body seems to react a little better, just barely.  The good news is that I have found the on!)

I've been using After Bite on my existing bites (basically Amonia, which I find a bit alarming) as well as some Hydrocortisone gel.  They both provide temporary relief but I have to reapply often and probably do so way more than I am supposed to.  
(2 YEARS IN REACTION-Hydrocotisone is worthless.  After Bite is okay, but also pretty much worthless.  The long and short of it, after much time spent trying to find a non-chemical solution to dealing with the itch is that HEAT IS THE ANSWER.   Here is what to do:
Take a hairdryer and aim it on the bite leaving about 2-3 inches between the surface of your skin and the dryer.  The more quickly you do this after you receive the bite, the better.  
Turn the hairdryer on and heat the skin until you start to feel uncomfortable.
Turn the hairdryer off before you burn the skin!
After a few seconds, I usually have 100% itch relief for around 4-5 hours.  For me this is an absolute miracle.  I've recommended this method to others with the same issues and for some it works, for others it hasn't which is why I am including the other natural methods I tried. ) 

Apparently making an at home paste can work ---mixing water with baking soda helps to alkalize the bite and relieve itching.  Toothpaste has been recommended on a few sites too.

These are some of the more weird treatments that apparently work:
-Apply stick anti-persperant to the bite.  Something in the active ingredient negates the itch. (Update-tried this too and I think it worked but not as well as the hot washcloth)
-Rub a wet bar of soap on the bite.  I don't know why this works but I'm guessing it removes some of the saliva and/or maybe helps alkalize things.
-Paint the bite with clear nail polish.  Can't find the explanation for this one.  
-Rub the inside of a banana peel on the bite.  Also, no explanation.
-Apply the thin skin inside of a cracked egg to the bite and allow to dry.  When dry, peel off and it is supposed to draw things out.
-Rub your own saliva on the bite.  I just did this, and oddly enough, it worked!  Not sure how long it will last though...(Update-about 5 mins. Boo)

So there you have it, my hopefully informative Mosquito Rant.  As the above cartoon dictates, Mosquito, you are Nature's Jerk.  In the nobel words of ex-CIA Agent Bryan Mills from the Taken series, "I don't know where you are but I will look for you.   I will find you and I will kill you."

Consider yourself warned.


1 comment:

  1. Here in Italy they have these electric rackets that are AMAZINGLY satisfying to use...