The low-down on mosquitoes at UoN

Lauren Gross gets to know every Callaghan student’s arch enemy a little better by chatting to mosquito expert Dr Cameron Webb.

 

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Raise your hand if you have ever felt personally victimised by a Callaghan mosquito.

 

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If you’re a first year, you would have discovered by now that the mosquitoes really are as bad as everyone says. Everyone else; welcome back to another year of getting eaten alive by the biggest and most bloodthirsty mosquitoes known to student-kind.

Medical entomologist Dr Cameron Webb is a mosquito researcher from the University of Sydney’s Pathology West. Dr Webb says that the mosquitoes are so bad at UoN because it is right in the flight path of newly hatched mosquitoes.

“The mosquitoes that cause most of the problems around Newcastle are typically found in the estuarine wetlands of the Hunter River…. following rain or ‘king tides’, the wetlands are flooded and millions, probably billions, of mosquitoes hatch out and fly many kilometres from the local wetlands. As the University of Newcastle is located within this ‘flight range’ of the mosquitoes and the trees and shrubs around campus provide a refuge for mosquitoes, there will always be mosquitoes about, particularly during the warmer months,” said Dr Webb.

I repeat; there will always be mosquitoes at Newcastle uni (cries).

This news particularly sucks if you’re one of those people who always seem to get bitten more than others. It’s not all in your head, some people really are more attractive to mosquitoes than others and it all comes down to how you smell.

Dr Webb says that there are up to 400 chemical compounds on human skin that could play a role in attracting and maybe even repulsing mosquitoes.

“We all smell a little different to mosquitoes due to the complex soup of chemicals in our sweat and bacteria on our skin,” he said.

Dr Webb says that this sweat and bacteria mix smells slightly different for everyone and is likely to explain why some people smell more attractive for mosquitoes than others. The particular smell of an individual is most likely due to genetics, but diet and physiology is also thought to play a role.

But, if you’re a particular smelly person, all hope is not lost. You can still attend your classes without death by mosquito (yay) by simply using insect repellent.

“Insect repellents that contain either DEET (diethyltoluamide) or Picaridin will provide the longest lasting protection. Make sure you apply them as you would sunscreen; covering all exposed areas of skin. A dab here and there or only spraying on your clothes won’t provide enough protection,” he said.

If you foolishly didn’t apply mosquito repellent because you thought that jeans and shoes would protect you, there are some things you can do to speed up the healing process of the bites.

“A cold pack can help reduce the swelling and the use of an anti-itch cream from the local pharmacy can help too,” he said.

There is a serious side to mosquito bites that is a lot worse than an itch. The Newcastle Herald reported that there were 152 confirmed cases of Ross River virus in the Hunter last year, up from 96 in 2013.

Dr Webb says that the mosquitoes biting around the uni are mostly a nuisance problem.

“For mosquitoes to spread disease-causing pathogens like Ross River virus, they need to bite a native animal like a kangaroo or wallaby first and pick up an infection. As these animals are pretty rare on the southern side of the Hunter River, disease risks are relatively low,” he said.

However, Dr Webb says that every year in the Hunter region, people are diagnosed with mosquito-borne viruses.

“This year, NSW is experiencing one of its biggest outbreaks of Ross River virus so even though the cool weather has arrived and mosquitoes generally aren’t as activity as during the summer, don’t be complacent,” he said.

 

“Avoid mosquito bites!”

 

For more information on mosquitoes and mosquito-borne disease, you can follow Dr Webb on Twitter (@mozziebites) or visit his research blog.

 

 

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