It’s a summertime health risk that you often don’t think of. West Nile, Zika, chikungunya, or malaria -- spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Almost 3,000 Americans were sickened with West Nile in recent years, and about 2,000 Americans are diagnosed with malaria every year. Now, scientists at North Carolina State University have developed special mosquito-proof material that may be a game changer.
Hard to imagine something so small can do so much damage. One bite from an infected mosquito may be all it takes.
“It’s actually injecting saliva into your body,” explained N.C. State entomologist and William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor Michael Roe.
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,” said Grayson Cave, an N.C. State PhD graduate student.
Even when you cover up, you’re not out of reach. Mosquitoes can bite through clothing. So, these scientists used mathematical equations to design material that mosquitoes can’t bite through.
“It has to do with the pore size. If you make the pore size small enough, their mouth parts can’t go through it,” Roe said, demonstrating the material. “The tortuosity of the path they have to go through to get to your skin is also important.”
The researchers tested the material on the forearm of a team member, reaching into a cage with about 100 disease-free mosquitoes. Not a single mosquito was able to bite through.
Roe’s fascination with insects is more than 50 years in the making, fueled by his high school 4H club.
“I was the kid walking around the high school with a butterfly net,” he said.
Others were drawn to the research by an interest in science but stayed because they were 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,” Cave said.
The researchers also tested a shirt initially designed for military use. A volunteer stood and sat in a cage filled with mosquitoes for 10 minutes and was 100 percent protected. An N.C. State startup company, Vector Textiles, has licensed the patent rights and will make clothing for commercial sale in the United States.