It would be an understatement to say that mosquitoes take the lead across most insects and tiny living creatures that are capable of carrying highly infective, potentially fatal pathogens and viruses. The mosquito problem is more severe across nations with a hot, humid and wet climatic conditions. Most parts of Asia, and almost the entire Asian subcontinent, falls within geographical reach of mosquitoes. With a high density of hygiene-related issues, Asian nations also struggle a lot more to ensure the long-term effectiveness of mosquito repellents and other insect-repelling mediums. However, Asia is also the epicentre of technological advancements with China and India now positioned as technology-providers to the globe. Obviously, these two aspects had to overlap at some stage and they did, with a slew of technically-fuelled mosquito-fighting solutions.
This discussion cuts through the clutter of similar-sounding arguments and overtly scientific theories to provide you the BIG reality check
Groundwork for the Discussion
Yes, plenty of lotions and creams out there that promise to scare-away the worst types of insects but overall, consumers are not satisfied. The shopping malls are stuffed with insect-repelling sprays but families with children don’t prefer these as the incidence of chemical-related allergies is steadily rising. So, it isn’t surprising that keen start-ups and out-of-the-box thinkers came up with mosquito fighting apps. Still, there is a question – can you actually trust a smartphone app to save your children against the deadly mosquito that can cause dengue or malaria ?
Vibration or Frequency? How does these apps work?
Mosquito replants apps are not alone in this race. In 2012, BBC brought a Brazilian radio station in focus which had incorporated a 15-kilohertz sound in the forecast in order help people repel mosquitoes and other bugs when they listening to radio outdoors – did it work? Not a lot!
While Asian nations are also known to use a lot of essential oils and oil diffusers to get rid of mosquitoes in a more ‘natural’ way, many tropical climate countries in the region have also come-up with some weird and interesting mosquito repellent apps. Most consumers believe that all such apps create some sort of subtle ‘vibration’ powerful enough to fend-off mosquitoes. But this is not the reality. On the contrary, most types of mosquito repellent apps release a high-frequency sound, preferably 15- Kilohertz, which is not audible to human beings but works like a charm on mosquitoes. This impossible-to-hear frequency is something similar to the distance-gauging echo waves that bats use. That is at least what developers of most mosquito repellent apps claim. Technically, these apps are designed to emit a high-frequency sound that mimics the sound made by potential predators and male mosquitoes. The biting charade is all about impregnated female mosquitoes and they try to steer clear of threats and the overenthusiastic male mosquitoes.
Now the Real Test: are such apps efficient?
A group of reporters from WFLA – an NBC affiliated television station – took on the task and tried out a few of these app. The results were not all that positive. Not surprising since online marketplaces like Amazon usually don’t discount or promote such products – overall consumer sentiments indicate a thumbs down!
For starters, the big promise of these apps keeping away all types of insect bites seems a bit too stretched. This is particularly true when using the apps outdoors, in camping-like, playground, hiking, or wilderness areas. Here, using a hyper-precision wavelength struggles to ward-off many types of insects. Closer home, across the balconies and open terraces, such apps are challenged by changing wind conditions and noise pollution. Something similar happened when MBC’s Kerry Sanders tested out one such app – no substantial results whatsoever! More field studies have been conducted by the Cochrane Collaboration underline the almost, complete uselessness of high-frequency sounds against insects that have a knack to bite. With more aggressive, attaching insects, the success rate might further deteriorate.
Doing the Dexter thing: what is the twist here?
Dr James G Logan, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Arthropod Control Product Test Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine shared his insights with The Independent. According to him, studies showing mosquitoes’ ability to communicate with wing beating frequency are definitely there but there are no studies about high efficacy of repellent apps and since there is no data showing the authenticity, they are not recommended. Whatever little data from actual users of such apps has been collated suggests more frustration rather than actual mosquito-repelling capabilities. Further, some users reported that such apps seemed capable of irritating infants, pets, and elderly people. This might be due to the less scientific and more promotional investment into such apps. Another study about mosquitoes has established that most types of female mosquitoes are less sensitive to sound as compared to their male counterparts. Hence, they are not really affected by ultrasonic sounds that such apps emit. This actually means that despite downloading and repeatedly using these apps, the biting & blood sucking buffet is most likely to continue!
What is the solution then?
Actually, there are plenty! However, the insect-repelling tool you use depends upon your expectations and to what extent, you value the overall health & safety of your family, especially the kids. Just look around and be amazed by the number to fancy brand names and marketing nomenclature that accompanies different types of DEET lotions. Other formulations in this niche use all types of IR3535 substitutes but these products seldom talk about the chemical exposure. Various studies conclude that skin irritation, rashes & other types of allergies due to constant exposure to such chemicals is a very real threat. These insect-repellents also have a short effective timespan, of just about 4 hours. A much better alternative has recently been brought into focus by Insect Shield Insect Repelling Fabric Treatment. With no reported side-effects, such clothes keep away all kinds of bugs and still they score high on comfort and style. BugShield Clothing uses this technology to create apparel options that can easily last up to 70 laundry cycles, maintaining the highest insect repelling performance.
DG, as she fondly called by her teammates, is never short of an opinion. Fond of gathering knowledge about Science & Space, she walks the fine line between saying too much & sounding sensible. High-calorie foods make no impact on her petite waistline.