Do mosquitoes find you irresistible? Researchers find a new reason

In Germany it is summer and with it not only temperatures rise, but also the number of attacks by bloodthirsty people mosquitoes increases significantly. Flying parasites can cause sleepless nights and, of course, a nasty itch in pinpoint areas. In a new study, researchers have now discovered what particularly appeals to them.

Mosquitoes most often attack people and animals when they are infected with viruses

Scientists at the University of Connecticut took a closer look at the connection between some viral diseases and mosquitoes. They wanted to build on previous knowledge that insects are attracted to smells. It was also previously observed that mice with malaria had an altered olfactory profile.

During the investigations, among other things, mosquitoes were released on mice with or without dengue and Zika virus. The mosquitoes then moved on to infected rodents with astonishing frequency. It was similar with humans: the smell of a person suffering from dengue fever and a healthy person were put on the hands of a test person. Mosquitoes constantly preferred the hand with the “sick” smell.

Also good to know: In addition to the smell, there is also a visual component. We will then tell you which colors attract mosquitoes and which ones you shouldn’t wear in the summer.

Acetophenone mosquito magnet

Tests conducted in both mice and humans found that the gaseous chemical compound acetophenone was found at particularly high concentrations in infected individuals. And this substance attracted mosquitoes particularly strongly. However, this meant it had to be sent through the skin.

A comparison between infected and healthy mice revealed an unusually high number of Bacillus bacteria in diseased animals, which in turn are among the main producers of acetophenone. From this, the researchers conclude that viruses change host body odor by altering the skin’s microbiome.

Regulatory molecule production suppressed

Normally, healthy skin produces high levels of the RELMĪ± molecule, which has an antimicrobial effect. Only very low levels of RELMĪ± were found in the diseased mice. Experts assume this was caused by the viral infection, which allowed the Bacillus bacteria to spread out of control. This led to a high production of acetophenone, which attracted mosquitoes.

The mosquitoes then suck the virus into the blood and pass it on. In this way, the pathogen actively participates in its spread. Investigations focused mainly on dengue and Zika virus infections. It is therefore unclear whether other viruses can also cause similar effects.

Those: “A bird from the skin microbiota of flavivirus-infected hosts promotes the attractiveness of mosquitoes” (Cell, 2022)

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