The factors that make you smell ‘tastier’ to mosquitoes – are you affected?

Dr Zoe explains why mosquitoes are attracted to red

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From the colour of your clothes to your scent, there seem to be certain factors that are drawing mosquitoes in. While some people don’t get bitten, others can suffer allergic reactions to the bites, leaving them with swollen and itchy red areas. Two viruses that could alter your scent and attract the buzzers are Zika and dengue fever.

According to a study, published in the journal Cell, Zika and dengue fever viruses are able to change the smell of mice and humans they infect.

This altered scent then attracts mosquitoes, which bite the host.

Once the annoying insects drink the infected blood, they can then carry the virus to the next person.

Dengue describes a viral infection, spread by mosquitoes in tropical and subtropical areas.

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Triggering fever, rash, and painful aches, dengue can sometimes even lead to haemorrhage and death.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease reports that more than 50 million dengue cases occur every year, resulting in about 20,000 deaths.

Zika details another mosquito-spread virus. The study explained: “Although it is uncommon for Zika to cause serious disease in adults, a recent outbreak in South America caused serious birth defects in the unborn children of infected pregnant women.

“Yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and West Nile are also members of this virus family.”

These viruses need ongoing infections in animal hosts as well as mosquitoes to spread.

Researchers from UConn Health suspected that dengue and Zika might be manipulating the hosts in some way to attract mosquitoes.

For example, both malaria and general inflammation can change people’s scent.

The researchers thought that viral infection by dengue and Zika might do the same thing.

At first, the team looked at whether mosquitoes showed a preference for infected mice.

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The research team indeed found that when mosquitoes were offered a choice of healthy mice or mice sick with dengue, the mosquitoes were more attracted to the infected model.

Analysing the smelly molecules on the skin, the researchers then identified several molecules that were more common in infected animals and tested them individually.

They applied them both to clean mice, and to human volunteers, and found that one odoriferous molecule – acetophenone – was especially “attractive” to mosquitoes.

Furthermore, skin odorants collected from human dengue patients showed the same result.

One of the authors Penghua Wang said: “The virus can manipulate the hosts’ skin microbiome to attract more mosquitoes to spread faster!”

These findings could explain how mosquito viruses manage to persist for such a long time.

Wang explained the next step is to look at more human patients with dengue and Zika.

This will help the researchers to establish whether the skin odour-microbiome connection is “generally true” in real world conditions.

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