Health Spotlight: Mosquito Repellent Clothing

Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) – Mosquitoes are more than just annoying, buzzing pests that swarm in wet, swampy conditions. They carry viruses which, when spread to humans, can pose a serious risk to your health. But now scientists are working on a new material design to help protect people against these pests.

West Nile, Zika and Malaria are all transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. This had led to nearly 3,000 Americans each year contracting West Nile virus and about 2,000 contracting malaria.

It can be hard to imagine that something so small could do so much damage.

Dr. Michael Roe, an entomologist at NC State University, explains, “It’s basically injecting saliva into your body.

Dr. Roe and a team of researchers tested non-toxic ways to protect human skin.

“There’s nothing like a real thing to attract insects,” says graduate doctoral student Grayson Cave.

But even when you cover up, you’re not out of reach. Mosquitoes can also bite through clothing. So, these scientists use mathematical equations to design a material that these parasites cannot pass through.

“It has to do with pore size,” Dr. Roe explained. “If you make the pore size small enough, their mouthparts can’t go through it. The tortuosity of the path they have to travel to reach your skin.

The researchers tested the material on the forearm of a team member who reached a cage with around 100 unharmed mosquitoes. Not a single mosquito could bite.

Dr. Roe’s fascination with insects goes back more than 50 years; fueled by his high school 4-H club, “I was the kid who walked around high school with a butterfly net.”

Others in the lab were drawn to research by an interest in science. But they stay because they say they are determined to make a difference.

“We all spend a lot of time doing that — putting our arms in mosquito cages or sleeping under mosquito nets here — because we really think a lot of those things here can help,” Cave says.

The researchers also successfully tested a shirt originally designed for military use that involved a volunteer standing in a cage filled with mosquitoes for 10 minutes.

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