• Researchers may have found way to stop mosquitoes from biting you

    By: Chris Flanagan

    Updated:

    Mosquito bites are itchy and annoying, but they also spread diseases, like West Nile and malaria.

    "They're all over you. At the end of the day you go home covered in bites, so it's bad," said landscaper Sean Piker.

    But a researcher in New York City has made a groundbreaking discovery and figured out a way to trick mosquitoes into thinking they're full, so they won't bite you.

    Dr. Laura Duvall at Rockefeller University was curious as to why a mosquito completely loses interest in biting people for a few days after eating a big meal of blood.  "They're using similar pathways to the one you or I would experience after we've had basically Thanksgiving dinner,"  Duvall said. 

    Duvall explained that only female mosquitoes bite, and they bite humans for blood because that blood contains proteins used to develop mosquito eggs. 

    PUTTING MOSQUITOES INTO A 'FOOD COMA' 

    "She's consumed the equivalent of 275 cheeseburgers, so as you can imagine, you or I would certainly be in a food coma after that," said Duvall.

    Duvall fed mosquitoes a drug used to treat people for obesity and discovered the insects were less interested in hunting for their next human meal.  "So, the idea is if we find ways to turn this pathway on, then we can fool hungry a mosquito into acting like she's already had a blood meal and losing interest in biting people,"  she said.

    Duvall said she hopes to someday take her discovery into the real world.  "So you might imagine one of these artificial feeders may be in your backyard, you know, maybe one-hundred yards away from your barbeque, so that all the mosquitoes are attracted to the feeder and choose that instead of you,"  said Duvall.

    LOCAL EXPERTS SEE PROMISE IN RESEARCH

    Kaitlyn O'Donnell is an entomologist with the Norfolk County Mosquito Control District. She says the research is encouraging. "We get disease from mosquitoes when they bite us. If they're not even interested in biting us in the first place, then the risk of disease is much lower, so it's a new and exciting way of looking at things,"  O'Donnell said.

    Our cameras were there recently as the NCMCD spread an extra application of product that targets mosquito larvae standing in water.  Even though Massachusetts has had record rainfall this spring, O'Donnell said it's too difficult to predict just how bad mosquito season will actually be. "Right now it's very wet out. Rivers are high and we have a lot of water.  So, we're hoping that it's not going to be too bad, but it's always hard to say,"  she said.

    Researchers at Rockefeller University said the diet drugs wear-off after about three days. But they're working on making the drugs cheaper and longer lasting so mosquitoes bite fewer people.  

    Researchers said the next step is to test the diet drugs and see how well they work on other types of mosquitoes and other blood-feeders, like ticks, which spread Lyme Disease. 

    PREVENTION TIPS 

    In the meantime, experts say you should still wear repellants, dump standing water, and repair screens.

    Mosquitoes most likely to carry disease are active from dusk to dawn.

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