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Health Spotlight: Are you a mosquito magnet?

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Why do some people seem to attract mosquito bites more than others?

Researchers are working on products to protect from the pests.

Mosquitos hunt down any member of the human species by tracking our carbon dioxide exhalations, and body heat and odor.

Some people called “mosquito magnets” get more than their fair share of bites. Many popular theories exist for why someone might be a preferred snack: blood type, blood sugar level, or being a woman or child. Yet little credible data exists to support most theories.

So, again, what might make you a mosquito magnet?

Mosquitos are one of the few insects to evolve a taste for human blood, which is an incredibly protein-rich meal.

Michael Roe, the William Neal Reynolds distinguished professor of entomology at North Carolina State University, said, “When they bite, it’s uncomfortable because there’s an irritation associated with the biting of the mosquito. It’s actually injecting saliva into your body.”

Each year, mosquitos infect about 400 million humans with the dengue fever virus while they taste your blood. In addition to the dengue fever virus, mosquitos also can transmit viruses for yellow fever, zika and chikungunya.

Certain people are more attractive to mosquitos than others because they have higher levels of carboxylic acids on their skin. The acid is produced through sebum, an oily layer that coats a person’s skin. Roe and his colleagues are working on a mosquito-repellant cloth to prevent even these people from getting infected by these pesky insects.

Roe said, “We have an amazing scientist on our team that’s a mathematician. He can mathematically define all those perimeters, combining them to describe what a cloth would have to be like to prevent mosquitos from biting.”

Scientists at The Rockefeller University believe the solution might be to manipulate our skin microbiomes, but, until then, keep using lots of bug spray.

Mosquito preference is a “central question” for researchers and the public.

What is unclear is whether mosquitoes use these compounds only to preferentially search out humans or whether a combination of scents indicates that particular people might make better meals. But, understanding the chemicals behind mosquito attraction could one day lead to a topical cream that could bring some relief for those on the tastier end of the mosquito magnet scale.

This story was created from a script aired on WISH-TV.