Reckon you’re mozzie bait? You could be right

Mozzie populations are flourishing, and research shows some people are more attractive to the blood-sucking insects than others. Here’s how to protect yourself.  

Mosquitos are not just annoying barbecue pests or night stalkers that keep us awake with incessant buzzing.

They can carry a range of potentially serious diseases.

With mosquito populations set to flourish again this summer thanks to back-to-back La Nina seasons bringing wetter than usual conditions – ideal for mosquito breeding – this is bad news if you’re someone who mozzies take a particular shine to.

Are you a mozzie magnet?

A recent study found the way some people smell makes them more attractive to mosquitoes than others.

The research found people who produce higher levels of carboxylic acids in their skin emanated a body odour particularly attractive to mosquitos.

While smell is a primary factor, mosquitoes also rely on visual and thermal stimuli to locate their next prey.

According to research fellow at Monash University’s Institute of Vector-Borne Disease Dr Heather Flores, mosquitoes may be attracted to “heat and lactic acid produced by increased activity”.

“But even here, if you wear deodorant, that will only decrease the sweat and odours produced from the areas where it is applied.

“All the other areas of your skin that aren’t covered may still be attractive to mosquitoes.”

Control how you smell: Best ways to mask body odour – no sweat

What illnesses can be spread by mosquitoes?

Mosquito-borne illnesses found in Australia include:

  • Ross River virus: Found across Australia but more common in the north and west. It can cause fever, aches, headache, joint and lymph node swelling, fatigue, and rashes.
  • Barmah Forest virus disease: Only occurs in Australia across most regions, especially around inland waterways and coastal regions. Can cause fever, chills, tiredness, rashes and swelling but is not considered fatal.
  • Murray Valley encephalitis: Mostly found in northern Australia, it can cause fever, drowsiness, confusion, nausea/vomiting, shaking, neck stiffness, headache, and seizures but is rarely fatal.
  • Dengue fever: This flu-like illness is not generally found in Australia, but outbreaks still occur in North Queensland when someone is infected overseas, and bitten by a mosquito in Australia that spreads it to others. It causes an illness similar to the flu, but sometimes can be more serious, and occasionally fatal.
  • Japanese encephalitis: While less than one per cent develop clinical disease, severe cases can cause neck stiffness, disorientation, tremors, coma, permanent neurological complications, or death.
    Griffith University viral immunologist Dr Ali Zaid says Japanese encephalitis is in the same family as dengue fever, yellow fever and Murray Valley encephalitis.

Why are mosquito-borne diseases increasing?

Medical entomologist and ecologist Dr Tanya Russell says major inland flooding events can cause an increase in mosquito-borne diseases, but its effects are still hard to predict.

“Mosquitoes don’t simply emerge from the aquatic habitats and straight away transmit viruses, first they need to take a blood meal from an infective host, and in Australia often the virus comes from feeding on infected animals or wildlife,” Dr Russell says.

“There is a risk that the perfect storm is coming.

“More water, more mosquitoes, more waterbirds and potentially more Ross River and Japanese encephalitis virus transmission.”

How to stay protect yourself from mosquito-borne illness

“(Many) mosquitoes have peak biting periods in the evenings and can be attracted to various colours or contrasting colours as well,” Dr Flores says.

A 2022 study suggests mosquitoes were attracted to red, orange, black and cyan due to their longer wavelengths and presence in the human skin tone.

“If people are out during peak biting times or especially in rural areas where these mosquitoes are highly prevalent, they should wear long sleeve shirts and pants and covered shoes.

“They can also use mosquito repellents.

“In your home, they should also remove stagnant water as this can provide breeding sites for mosquitoes,” she says.

It’s also recommended to:

  • Wear long, loose fitting clothing when outside.
  • Use and apply mosquito repellents on exposed skin.
  • Stay indoors and away from areas where lots of mosquitos are out and about.
  • Remove any water-holding containers where mosquitoes may breed.

Written by Cheryl Critchley. Updated by Melissa Hong October 2022.