Zika, Mosquitoes & How to Not Get Bitten

Zika, Mosquitoes and How to Not Get Bitten

Mosquitoes Transmit Zika

We found another excellent video about the Zika Virus and the mosquitoes that carry it.

The American Chemical Society, through an initiative they call “Reactions”, has created a series of informative science videos and infographics that help to “Uncover the Chemistry in Everyday Life.” ¹

In this video, they explain how mosquitoes spread diseases like Zika, and what you can do to protect yourself.

Credit: Reactions ¹

Video duration: 4:24

Public Health Emergency


“Diseases from mosquito bites kill hundreds of thousands of people every year worldwide. Now another mosquito-borne illness is making headlines: the once-rare Zika virus. The virus has spread throughout Brazil, and the World Health Organization has declared Zika a public health emergency.”

Begin transcript

“Mosquitoes kill more humans than any other animal per year. And that includes other humans — and we’re pretty self-destructive.

And now, mosquitoes are spreading the Zika virus.

Zika virus isn’t exactly new, and up until now, not exactly worrisome. It was first discovered in 1947 in Africa.

Typically only 1 in 5 people infected actually get sick. The unlucky ones get mild symptoms like a fever, rash, and red eyes that usually last less than a week.

No biggie.

But in 2015, Zika, a relatively unknown virus, began to spread explosively, affecting more than a million people in Brazil so far. And it’s a major health crisis because of its link to a 20-fold rise in Brazil’s cases of microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to be born with unusually small heads and often results in brain damage.

To be clear, it is not yet known if Zika is actually causing microcephaly, but the increase in the zika cases suggests a strong link and that is enough to cause alarm.

As Zika has spread, the World Health Organization declared it a global public health emergency — a very serious category which is reserved for explosive outbreaks like Ebola.

But unlike Ebola, the Zika virus has MOSTLY spread via the dreaded mosquito bite.

So How Do Mosquitoes Transmit Disease?

Mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, and other animals that carry diseases and infect other animals are called “vectors.”

Because vectors spread viruses somewhat randomly, they’re hard to predict, prevent and control, and only a few have vaccines (Zika is not one of them).

Zika is carried by a specific species of mosquito (Aedes aegypti) — and only the female mosquitoes who need blood for their growing eggs. As she bites, she inserts a tube that sucks up blood and another tube that sends saliva into the victim.

Their saliva has compounds that keep the blood flowing, and prevent inflammation so you don’t even know you’ve been bitten. Inside a mosquito, viruses have to be cunning — they have to evade digestion and gut pH, pass through several membranes, and fight off the mosquito’s immune defense for long enough to get passed on to a more suitable host, since they can’t survive without one.

As long as enough of the virus isn’t eliminated, it gets passed on to humans via the mosquito’s transmission of saliva into a person’s bloodstream. Once inside humans, the virus can spread quickly from cell to cell, tricking healthy cells to produce more viruses.

So, the best way to not get a disease transmitted by a mosquito is to simply not be bitten by one.

How Do You Not Get Bitten?

How, you ask?

Well, you hide from the mosquitoes. And we don’t mean shutting yourself indoors all day everyday.

You can use an insect repellant.

The most common and effective repellents are DEET and products containing Picaridin (pee-car-din), which both work the same way.

Mosquitoes have 72 types of odor receptors in an antenna like structure near their mouths. 27 of them are dedicated to sniffing out a good human target.

Quick fun fact: Studies have suggested that beer drinking, having O-blood type, being pregnant, and secreting lactic acid during a hard workout all make you more attractive to types of mosquitoes that carry Malaria or yellow fever.

Aside from those, mosquitoes love the scent of fresh carbon dioxide, which is unfortunate for all of those with functioning respiratory systems since we breathe out carbon dioxide.

We also breathe out another mosquito-attracting chemical called Octenol (OC-tin-all).

Now what DEET and Picaridin do is corrupt the mosquito’s odor receptors. They block their ability to detect carbon dioxide, octenol and some of the other 400 compounds on your skin, making you essentially invisible to mosquitoes.

Picaridin is just a little bit better when it comes to mosquito repelling than DEET, and it’s less irritating on skin.

However if you’re in a pinch you can always use Victoria Secret’s Bombshell.

No, seriously! It’s proven effective at repelling mosquitoes.

Certain types of bug zappers pump out carbon dioxide and octenol, tricking mosquitoes into thinking they’ve detected a tasty human and well, you know what happens after that.

In light of this recent Zika epidemic, scientists have been proposing some controversial ways to stop the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.

These include ways of introducing genetically modified mosquitoes into wild populations to sterilize mosquitoes, kill their offspring, or make them bad at transmitting disease.

But before settling on any of these mosquito options, officials have asked people to protect themselves, and have even asked women to stop getting pregnant in some countries.

So if you’re going outside and you know there will be mosquitoes around, stay safe.

Make sure to put on some repellent.

And hey, thanks for watching!”

End transcript


¹ Reactions is a series from the American Chemical Society that uncovers the chemistry in everyday life. Follow them on their Google+ Page.