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Are you a mosquito magnet? Your body's aroma may be the allure

What is it about certain people that makes them mosquito magnets? In this episode of NewsMD's "Health Fusion," Viv Williams checks out a new study that may have an answer as to why the stinging pests find some people irresistible.

a close up view of a culex tarsalis mosquito perching on a human hand
Mosquitoes target their human prey because of certain smelly secretions on the skin.
Contributed / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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ROCHESTER — Are you one of those people who attracts mosquitoes? The flying pests may find you irresistibly alluring because of the smell of your skin.

A study by researchers at Rockefeller University in New York City shows that mosquitoes can't seem to resist people whose skin glands secrete certain types of fatty acids.

“There’s a very, very strong association between having large quantities of these fatty acids on your skin and being a mosquito magnet,” says Leslie Vosshall , head of Rockefeller’s Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior.

How did the researchers figure this out? They conducted an experiment for which they asked a group of people to wear nylons over their arms for six hours a day. Then they put those nylons in a container with swarms of one species mosquitoes.

One of those stockings — labeled Subject 33 — was by far the mosquitoes' favorite target. It was four times more attractive to the mosquitoes than the next most-attractive sample, and 100 times more appealing than the one in last place.


Then the researchers analyzed the skin secretions on the nylons and found that mosquitoes flocked to people whose skin excreted high levels of carboxylic acids.

Now that they know what mosquitoes can't seem to resist, the researchers hope their paper inspires future research on other types of mosquitoes. And maybe even studies into how to make people who are mosquito magnets less attractive to the insects.

The study is published in the journal Cell .


Follow the  Health Fusion podcast on  Apple,   Spotify and  Google podcasts. For comments or other podcast episode ideas, email Viv Williams at  vwilliams@newsmd.com. Or on Twitter/Instagram/FB @vivwilliamstv.

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Opinion by Viv Williams
Viv Williams hosts the NewsMD podcast and column, "Health Fusion." She is an Emmy (and other) award-winning health and medical reporter whose stories have run on TV, digital and newspaper outlets nationwide. Viv is passionate about boosting people's health and happiness by helping them access credible, reliable and research-based health information from top experts. She regularly interviews experts and patients from leading medical institutions, such as Mayo Clinic.
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