It’s West Nile Virus season, everybody!1
Break out the nets and dust clouds of repellant! Brush off the knee-high socks and lock in the screen doors! The mosquitoes are here and you, my friend, are one tasty piece of mass.
I mean, I get it. Mosquitoes are important. They’re part of a biome and without them weird fish like the Gambusia Affinis or the rather dashing (in a Prince sort of way) purple martin or the bat or the dragonfly would go a little bit hungrier.
I’ve got my own share of bites after a short stint in New York, lazing on a city fire escape and feeling invincible in my sunscreen and long sleeves. But much like love, mosquitoes always find a way.
Just one night of couch surfing near an open window has left me with enough bumps to warrant my own Braille publisher. But as TRL blogger Adventurae Maris might say, “it’s not the problem that creates the problem, it’s your reaction to the problem that creates the problem.”
To my chagrin, she’s right. It wasn’t the mosquitoes’ delicious, anti-blood-clotting-filled saliva that created the itch. Instead, it was my body’s reaction to pump histimines – a nice little compound delivered by my favorite infection-fighting white blood cells – that caused the agony.2
And my own urge to scratch only makes it more inflamed. My body assumes the bites are getting worse and sends more histimines, more itch and more swelling. It’s why allergy drugs can provide temporary relief3 – they’re anti-histimines and block this behavior.
But my woes seem a paultry penance for my urban odyssey compared to what some will do for science. A paper published in 2000 bears the chilling title A New Module for Quantitative Evaluation of Repellent Efficacy Using Human Subjects.
The paper reads. Like a nightmare.
(Excerpts taken from various points throughout.)
Females [mosquitoes] were starved 36h before testing.
Each arm is exposed to several hundred caged mosquitoes for 3 min at 30-min intervals until repellency is lost as evidenced by one bite followed by another within 30 minutes.
The open cage, containing 10 mated female mosquitoes, is strapped to a subject’s forearm over the treated areas…
The number of insects biting in each cell within a 2-min exposure were recorded…
Use of a human subject’s thighs for exposure instead of the forearms used in other repellent tests was adventageous because the increased skin area permitted larger numbers of treatments and increased replication potential.
Yeah, because we want to repeat this whole thing as many times as possible.
So when you’re out galavanting in the summer sun, swatting away at the suckers, take heart in the fact that you are not the subject of such a laboratory experiment. And by god, Daniel Strickman deserves more than a simple acknowledgement for “serving as a volunteer for testing against the mosquitoes and reviewing the manuscript.”
1. Congratulations, Tennessee, you’ve won something terrible. ↩
2. Obligatory pun: More like hista-MEANs, am I right? ↩
3. Other solution: anti-perspirant. Works surprisingly well for short periods of time.↩