Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mosquitoes

One piece of evidence for global warming is normally tropical diseases being spread by mosquitoes in temperate zones like Florida and other southern states and eventually farther north.  For example, the chikungunya virus carried by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus.  As the planet warms we can expect a lot more such as dengue fever, malaria, and encephalitis traveling northward.

Clearly we are more and more going to need some way of warding off mosquitoes.  Everyone I know is familiar with Deet.  Jennifer Jolly in the New York Times says:

The only thing that worked really well is the stuff that worked well 40 years ago, back when I was just a young, fresh mosquito target traipsing across the tundra: bug spray with DEET. The more, the better. Sure, it can melt plastic, comes with a list of warnings to rival those in prescription drug commercials, and ate my nail polish off in a matter of minutes, but when it’s me versus mosquitoes in a winner-take-all-my-blood feeding frenzy, I use what works.

But as she reports, there something in the pipeline for 2016 that may put Deet to shame:

The good news is that another option — a patch that essentially creates a mosquito-repelling force field around your body — may be available as soon as next summer.
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A team of scientists and tech-savvy entrepreneurs are putting the finishing touches on a stickerlike patch, meant to be worn on clothing, that essentially makes humans invisible to mosquitoes.
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The patch [called the Kite Compound], which isn’t available yet, smelled an awful lot like cloves, and as I inserted my arm into the glass box again, no mosquitoes landed anywhere near it.
During my time at Kite’s facility, I wasn’t able to talk anyone into telling me exactly what the proprietary blend is made of, only that the version to be released in 2016 is made of fragrances and other compounds that don’t require E.P.A. approval. A second version is awaiting regulatory approval for 2017.

The new compound works by confusing a mosquito’s senses, hindering its ability to target us based on the carbon dioxide we exhale, and confounding its capacity to locate us up close. The Kite compound was effective in the lab, but the ultimate test will come once it can be worn in all corners of the mosquito-covered planet.

If that happens, it means that in the age-old battle of humans versus mosquitoes, humans may finally have a shot at winning.