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Mosquitoes Play Favorites

Some people smell better to mosquitoes than other people.

With the heavy rains that have fallen during the spring and early summer across many areas of North America, mosquitoes are becoming plentiful in some areas. If more of those mosquitoes seem to seek you out more than they go after other people, it's probably not "all in your imagination."

Research has shown mosquitoes have preferences. In any group of 10 people, one person will usually be fed on more than others.

Mosquitoes initially find their hosts through a keen sense of smell. Researchers have found that people can attract mosquitoes from 40 miles away simply by breathing. When a person exhales, their carbon dioxide and other odors mix to produce a plume that travels through the air. The plume acts like a dinner bell to mosquitoes, letting them know a juicy meal is within range.

Mosquitoes fly up the plume in a zigzag pattern. Then they home in specific odors in the air using vision and heat sensing to make a selection. Mosquitoes sort attractive people from unattractive people to find those that are most tasty - and a desirable meal. It's been theorized that mosquitoes, which need cholesterol and B vitamins but can't make them on their own, can sense which host is the richest source of these ingredients.

You may not be able to do much about the natural odors everyone gives off, but you can watch what you put on your skin. Some of the ingredients in cosmetics can be very strong attractants for mosquitoes. Repellents may offset that, but only for a while, because most cosmetics and creams last longer than insect repellents."

Medications, too, can change an attractive person into one who is repellent or vice versa. Mosquito magnets include heart and blood pressure medicine and drugs to treat high cholesterol.