Blood, sweat and tears (but not mosquitoes)
March 25, 2010 10:20 PM   Subscribe

My 3 year old son seems to be immune to biting insects (tics, mosquitoes, leeches). Why?

Some back-ground:
- He was born with a very low red blood cell count which, despite many tests, was never diagnosed (it was thought to be thalassemia, but turned out not to be); he wasn't anaemic as there was iron present in his system. His cell count eventually turned to normal.
- He is allergic to soy, egg, milk, fish and nuts.
- He suffers from eczema - which only responds to mild cortisone and sorbolene.

We live in a sub-tropical, hinterland climate and he and his brother do all the same things - while Oska is tanned and gets tics, head lice, leeches and mosquito bites, Noa suffers none of these, despite being in precisely the same environment and situations.

Any ideas?
posted by a non e mouse to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
EducatedGuessFilter: Does your son use cortisone regularly? Itchy, inflamed bug bites are caused by the body's immune response to bug saliva. Cortisone suppresses immune reactions and inflammation. Maybe there's a connection?
posted by embrangled at 10:43 PM on March 25, 2010

FYI - an older post on the same topic, for anecdotes.

I don't think it's possible to be 'immune' to leeches and lice, they just look for any warm flesh to attach to. He is probably just lucky.

This is a sort of entertaining article from the WSJ about it, too.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:58 PM on March 25, 2010

Response by poster: Embrangled - that's pretty interesting, I hadn't thought of that. The answer is 'yes' - he is regularly cortisoned.

The only issue with this however, is that on several occasions last year - my other son had head lice, that we all ended up with - except Noa.

Afro - as a result of the eczema, he's the scratchmeister - one day he'll make a damn fine DJ. In a cloud of mosquitoes, he walks tall and untouched, like Jebus son, they part to let him through.

Treehorn - thanks, I didn't see that post - on reading, I can see a potential market for bottling my son's blood/smell and making my fortune.
posted by a non e mouse at 11:17 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

In a cloud of mosquitoes, he walks tall and untouched, like Jebus son, they part to let him through.

I had a co-worker like that. Given that we were doing surveys in a swamp at the time it was a truly neat trick.
posted by fshgrl at 11:33 PM on March 25, 2010

Mosquitoes have been shown to have a preference for type O blood. I have found this to be true: when in large groups, I tend to get significantly more mosquito bites (and the associated distress) than others around me. That is, unless my (type O) sister is present; she'll get even more bites than me when we're together. Perhaps Noa's blood type different from O?
posted by halogen at 11:35 PM on March 25, 2010

Mosquitoes just aren't attracted to some people.
posted by delmoi at 1:46 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OK - that covers mosquitoes.

What makes this more curious is the other blood suckers who are in league of denial.
posted by a non e mouse at 3:12 AM on March 26, 2010

My fiancee's sister has eczema, and she explained that makes her immune to poison ivy and such. Maybe eczema affects the immune response.
posted by spaltavian at 4:49 AM on March 26, 2010

As a data point, mosquitoes bite me, but I never get the bumps so it seems like I never get bit. I am missing whatever immune response reacts and makes the welts. I do get other kinds of bites veeeeery occasionally, but never out of control red welts. I got a leech once, but it didn't bother me and I just pulled it off. Never got another.

I do not have eczema, but I do have mild psoriasis. Maybe there's something to that?
posted by ohio at 5:36 AM on March 26, 2010

Does he get bites when he's on his own? People tend to love going outside with me as I attract all the biting insects, leaving them home free. My dad was the same way. When we went out fishing as a family my mom would be bite free while my dad and I were covered in bites. Mosquitoes, chiggers, nits, leeches, flies, horse flies, bees, etc.

It isn't blood type with us (no where close to type O), but it's a family joke on my dad's side about how the guy's are all portable heaters. Our blood vessels seem to favor dilation over contraction.
posted by jwells at 5:36 AM on March 26, 2010

Your son is probably still being bitten, but the bites aren't visible because his body doesn't react to them. The actual injury caused by a mosquito is minuscule - the only reason we even notice bites is that usually, our immune systems respond and turn them red and itchy. If you're giving your son cortisone regularly, that could be dulling his response to the bites. Or, maybe his lack of response is just an immunological quirk - the opposite of his over-responsiveness to fish or nuts.

On the other hand, maybe he actually smells bad to bugs. Does he use special lotion or soap? Some of the creams people use for eczema smell pretty awful. Or maybe the eczema itself smells bad? (To bugs, I mean. I'm sure your son smells fine to everyone else). Or, maybe the surface of his skin is so dry or damaged that it just doesn't register to bugs as something worth hanging around to bite. Either way, it sounds like the kid's had a rough start to life, so I'm glad he has magical anti-bug superpowers to be smug about as he grows up.
posted by embrangled at 5:56 AM on March 26, 2010

Does the young one use any lotions? I can't remember which lotion(s) it/they was/were, but my grandma swore by some product or another. Whatever miracle remedy she had, I don't think it worked particularly well for me, but it might be something to consider.

Also, you mention that Oska is tanned. Is Noa? If not, does he use any kind of sunscreen?
I don't know what the presence of sunscreen might mean, but it sounds like a question Dr. House might ask right before the big reveal.
posted by The Potate at 6:08 AM on March 26, 2010

Just as a data point, I have severe eczema, an overactive immune system, and do not get mosquito bites. They rarely bite me, but even when they do, I can watch them biting and sucking my blood, but a bump never develops, and it is never itchy. However, I only used cortisone for about 6 months when I was a teen.

I'm curious now as to why this happens!
posted by hasna at 6:34 AM on March 26, 2010

I also don't get any sort of reaction from mosquito bites, and while they will bite me, I do not seem to be their preferred prey. I don't have eczema although I do appear to have some sort of autoimmune-based arthritis.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:28 AM on March 26, 2010

Speaking up as someone else who doesn't react to bug bites. (I assume I probably still get bitten, but I don't recall ever finding any bug bites anywhere on my skin.) I also don't recall having any reaction to poison ivy, though I'm not outdoorsy and haven't had much of a chance to be exposed since I was a kid. I've got fairly mild eczema and psoriasis (but no known allergies or low blood count issues or anything else your son's got.) It'd be interesting if there turned out to be some sort of relationship between mild autoimmune disorders and lack of reaction to these sort of things.
posted by ubersturm at 8:07 AM on March 26, 2010

"my other son had head lice, that we all ended up with - except Noa."

Lice are racially specific; they have to grab two hairs and the species are closely evolved to match a particular race's hair follicle distance. (I met an entomologist who got fired for repeatedly pointing this out to parents complaining "certain children" should not be allowed to attend school because they kept infecting other children with lice during school integration in the 60s -- rudely, and with comments on their appalling racism.) So if his hair is markedly different than the rest of the family's, that could account for it, especially if you're multiracial.

When I worked outdoors one summer I got bit by so many mosquitoes that after six weeks or so my body quit responding to them with the allergic reaction. I was still getting bitten but they didn't itch, turn red, or raise a bump anymore, so I mostly quit noticing. (By the next summer, my body was reacting again, so it wasn't a permanent state.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:51 AM on March 26, 2010

When I lived with my two half-brothers and their mother, we got fleas. One brother and I were devoured, while the other brother and their mother were untouched. No eczema or psoriasis or weird food allergies.

I think it might just be on the spectrum of susceptibility or desirability to blood-sucking insects. Some people (like me) are like the Holy Grail to bugs, and others, like your son, are just completely not interesting or maybe even unpalatable, and then there are all the people in between.

I definitely wish that pharmaceutical companies would do research on what exactly is going on there, because yes, I'd be in the market for a bottle of synthesized your-son's-blood for this coming summer.
posted by thebazilist at 12:31 PM on March 26, 2010

Response by poster: Lots of interesting stuff to think about here - thanks so much for taking the time to respond.
The eczema 'smell' and the immunological aspect seem to broach the issue pretty well, and it gives me something to further research. The hair distance is really interesting also - although I wouldn't classify ourselves as multi-racial (Mother French and Father Australian.
posted by a non e mouse at 2:13 PM on March 26, 2010

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