Health Headlines: Mosquito-proof clothing

Published: Aug. 9, 2022 at 12:31 PM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - Mosquitos are more than just annoying, buzzing pests that swarm in swampy and humid conditions. They carry viruses that, 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 from these pests.

West Nile, Zika, and Malaria are all spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. This had led to almost 3,000 Americans a year coming down with the West Nile virus and about 2,000 with malaria.

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

Dr. Michael Roe, Entomologist with N.C. State University, explains, “It’s actually injecting saliva into your body.”

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

“There’s nothing like an actual being for attracting the insects,” says PhD Graduate Student Grayson Cave.

But even when you cover up, you’re not out of reach. Mosquitoes can bite through clothing as well. So, these scientists are using mathematical equations to design a material that these pests can’t get through.

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

The researchers tested the material on the forearm of a team member who reached into a cage with about 100 disease-free mosquitoes. Not a single mosquito was able to bite through.

Dr. Roe’s fascination with insects is more than 50 years in the making; fueled by his High School 4-H Club, “I was the kid walking around the high school with a butterfly net.”

Others in the lab were drawn to the research by an interest in science. But they stay because they say they’re committed to making a difference.

“We all spend a lot of time doing this – sticking our arms in mosquito cages or sleeping under bed nets here – because we really feel that a lot of this stuff here is something that can help,” says Cave.

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

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