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Boy diagnosed with dangerous mosquito-borne virus — what you need to know

Why are mosquito bites itchy? How to stop bites from itching? Here's a look at what doctors say.

The mother of a 7-year-old boy in Ohio is raising the alarm after her son’s mosquito bite led to a life-threatening diagnosis, The Canton Repository reported.

Joshua Gay, whose family lives in Canton, complained of a headache, developed a high fever, and then became unresponsive after experiencing a seizure. He was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with the mosquito-borne virus called La Crosse encephalitis, which creates inflammation of the brain and is most severe in children under age 16.

The virus is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Although it's rare, the 7-year-old isn't the only one to have their world turned upside down by a bite. A 6-year-old in North Carolina nearly died from La Crosse encephalitis, and his mom also shared her story to raise awareness.

Not all species of mosquitoes bite. The bad news? There are more than 3,000 species of the flying pests. To learn more about the ones that do and how to avoid them, here's what doctors and researchers say:

Mosquitoes do bite some people more often than others

If you feel you get bit more often than others, you might just be right.

“Female mosquitoes require blood, and they do have preferences whom they get it from,” explains Dr. Tom Rohrer, dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon at SkinCare Physicians in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

While it remains unclear whether mosquitoes prefer certain people or simply dislike biting others more, doctors have a few clues as to who gets bit more often.

mosquito bites
It's important to empty stagnant pools of water near and around your home so you prevent mosquitoes from breeding. Getty Images

The amount of carbon dioxide you produce, the chemicals in your sweat and your scent all play a role.

“Mosquitos have been shown to prefer people who have recently exercised or have higher levels of uric acid, lactic acid and ammonia,” he said. “They are also said to be partial to those with type O blood, pregnant women, and those who have recently consumed beer,” Rohrer said.

Mosquitoes are also drawn to people with higher temperatures.

Joseph Conlon, a medical entomologist and technical advisor to the American Mosquito Control Association, told NBC News, that it could be that some people produce chemicals on their skin that make them more repellent and cover up smells that mosquitoes find attractive.

Certain people react more seriously to mosquito bites

“When a mosquito bites, some of their saliva is left in the skin. The proteins in the saliva incite an immune response from the skin and create the characteristic red itchy bump,” Rohrer said.

The reaction isn't about how much blood the mosquito sucked.

“While nearly everyone gets some degree of a reaction to mosquito bites, some people can have very dramatic reactions to the very same bite,” he said. “Some people have a much stronger immune response and therefore create a much larger and more itchy red bump.”

How to prevent mosquito bites

One of the best ways to prevent mosquitoes bites is to prevent the bugs from breeding near your home. After it rains, remove standing water in and around your home. Look for pools of water in places like your garbage or recycling bins and empty flower pots, then dump the water out.

“Wearing protective clothes ... citronella-scented candles, and insect repellents all reduce the likelihood of being bitten by mosquitoes,” the board-certified dermatologist added.

One study found there’s another surprisingly simple way to ward off mosquitoes: swat at them.

A scientific paper published in “Current Biology,” shows that University of Washington researchers found mosquitos can learn to associate a person’s smell with being swatted at. Mosquitoes can learn to avoid that person and remember his or her smell for days.

How do you deal with those itchy bites?

A cool compress or over the counter hydrocodone cream can help reduce itching. Oral antihistamines, such as medications used to deal with allergies, are also very effective.

“I tell my patients to avoid creams such as calamine and ‘antibiotic’ ointments such as Neosporin, Polysporin, and Bacitracin as so many people have allergic reactions to these products.”

If you’re having itchiness that keeps you up at night or is interfering with your day, see a doctor. It could be a more serious bite, or something that looks like a bite, but isn’t, such as contact dermatitis from an old razor.

mosquito bites
If you have a fever, dizziness or shortness of breath, call your doctor right away.Getty Images

Rohrer offered additional guidance:

“Anyone who has had mosquito bites and is experiencing high fever, a rash, red eyes, muscle pain, headache, or difficulty breathing should seek medical attention. In addition, if the mosquito bite is larger than a quarter, begins to fill with fluid, or becomes very red around the bite, it is important to see a board certified dermatologist.”

Some mosquito bites can lead to serious illness like Malaria, dengue fever, eastern equine encephalitis virus, yellow fever, West Nile virus, Zika virus and meningitis.

So take the necessary precautions to protect you and your family.