In most places, summer means warm and humid weather, which means the mosquitoes are sure to be out in full force. At parks, splash pads and at every summer camp in the country, kids are miserably scratching at little red welts on their arms and legs. It seems like some kids are always getting mosquito bites, while others only experience the occasional itch. And in fact, some children do seem to be more prone to mosquito bites than others.
In the mosquito bite world, it's the girls who rule: Females are the only mosquitoes that bite, because they use a protein in human and animal blood to develop their eggs, according to the University of Florida entomology department. As the lady bloodsuckers feed, they release saliva into the skin that causes the familiar allergic reaction of itching and swelling. But mosquitoes are actually picky about the victims they choose; they're attracted to certain sights and smells more than others. Although it’s no fun to be a mosquito’s choice bite, it can be useful to understand their preferences so that you can act (or dress) accordingly.
Read on to find out why some kids become the Catch of the Day on the mosquito menu — and some kids don’t — and what you can do to keep the mosquito bites at bay.
They're just the right (blood) type
It’s possible that your child gets so many mosquito bites because of their blood type. “Female mosquitoes require blood in order to be able to reproduce, and certain blood types actually contain higher levels of a protein that makes female mosquitos more fertile,” explains Cecchini. The lucky blood type that will get bitten by a mosquito the most often? Well, it’s O, according a PubMed study, which found that mosquitos will land on people who possess this blood type more often than any others. “That’s why kids with this blood type may experience more mosquito bites than children without them,” says Cecchini.
But how does a mosquito even know what blood type you are, anyway? “If your body secretes a signal that tells the mosquito what blood type you are, you are more likely to get bit,” Dr. Karan Lal, a board-certified dermatologist and The Society for Pediatric Dermatology committee chair, tells Romper. “This is true regardless of your blood type, and not everyone secretes these signals.”
They're wearing red
If you thought that only bulls were attracted to the color red, think again. Mosquitos have a color preference when it comes to the humans they choose to bite, and your clothing — and your child’s — plays an important part in that selection. “Mosquitos, unlike humans, have poor vision and wearing dark colors like red, black or green make you stick out like a sore thumb,” explains Lal. “This is why it’s great to embrace light colors and to wear linen (so you don’t sweat as much).” But red isn’t the only color that makes a mosquito move; They like cyan and orange, too. So if your child is always getting mosquito bites, it might be time to mix up their wardrobe a bit.
They've been breathing hard
You’d think that a mosquito would steer clear of a person breathing heavily, but as it turns out, it’s really appealing to them. “If we exercise and are breathing heavily, we release more carbon dioxide than if we were breathing normally,” Cecchini explains. “Mosquitos can detect the levels in the air and will move toward wherever there is an increase. It signals to them that a person is nearby.”
Now, obviously you wouldn’t want to stop your kid from exercising and playing hard outdoors. But, you can help minimize their exposure to mosquito bites by strategically blocking out certain times to play outdoors, Lal advises. “Kids are usually running around early in the morning or later in the day around dusk,” he says. “Kids and adults aren’t the only ones that like it when it’s not as hot outside — mosquitoes do too. These are peak times for certain mosquitoes to be out.” If your child is playing outside at these peak times, encourage them to wear long sleeves and pants, and try to keep them off the grass and away from wooded areas with standing water. For added insurance, try using a strong, child-safe insect repellent.
They have smelly feet
Have you ever noticed that your ankles, legs, and feet are the spots that mosquitos make as their meal? Well, part of that is due to the fact that mosquitoes like the stinky smell. “Kids are running around sweating and have bacteria on their skin. When the bacteria on the skin process the sweat they produce a funky, sour odor,” says Lal. “Mosquitos love this smell!” Luckily, this mosquito attractor — unlike blood type — is within your control. Even if it’s summertime and the feel of grass blades tickling their toes feels amazing, encourage your kid to wear close-toed shoes and — if you can manage it — socks, too. Not only will this prevent a buildup of sweat, but it also physically blocks the pesky bites.
In short, if it feels like your kid is always getting mosquito bites — while their friends remain bite-free — it’s possible that is exactly what’s happening. While you can’t control their blood type, and you don’t want to keep them from playing outdoors, there are a few things you can do to reduce their chances of being bitten. Grab the insect repellent, put on your airiest light-colored clothing, and head outside.
Shirai, Y., Funada, H., Seki, T., Morohashi, M., Kamimura, K. (2004). Landing preference of Aedes albopictus (Diptera: Culicidae) on human skin among ABO blood groups, secretors or nonsecretors, and ABH antigens, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15311477/
Dr. Cherilyn Cecchini, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician
Dr. Karan Lal, a board-certified dermatologist and The Society for Pediatric Dermatology committee chair
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