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Insect bites can do more than bug you, experts say

OMRF scientists explain why bugs do what they do.
BY ADAM COHEN, For The Oklahoman Published: July 31, 2012
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When the grass is green and the trees are full of leaves, it makes the whole world seem more alive. But when we head outside to enjoy the season, we're met with more than verdant fields and canopies of leaves.

“In Oklahoma, bugs are just a fact of life,” said Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation President Stephen Prescott, M.D., a physician and medical researcher. “And some of us have more trouble with them than others.”

Out for a picnic? Then you're likely to encounter mosquitoes.

But even though you're in the same place, your friends might not be dive-bombed by those bloodsuckers because of body chemistry.

“Mosquitoes find us by our smell and by our body heat,” he said. “The biggest trigger is carbon dioxide, which is why larger people or active people are so often targeted.”

Why do they bite? It's not for dinner, but for procreation.

Female mosquitoes are the only ones who bite, and they do it to get the necessary protein from human blood so they can lay eggs.

The itching sensation comes from mosquito saliva, Prescott said. It contains an anticoagulant — so the blood doesn't clot once they suck it up — which is left behind after the bite.

The human immune system, sensing something wrong, attacks proteins in the saliva, causing inflammation in the surrounding tissues. It usually takes about a week for them to go away.

“Mosquito bites are annoying, but bee stings really cause a panic,” he said. “Not only do they hurt, but in some cases, people have a severe allergic reaction that, untreated, could prove deadly.”

Again, the female of the species is the dangerous one. Male bees don't have stingers, because they're actually modified egg depositors.

“The stinger seems scary, but it's what's inside the bee that is most dangerous,” he said. “Inside the abdomen is a venom sac, filled with a liquid that is deadly to human cells.”

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