Me, Mosquitoes and West Nile Virus

I have been fighting mosquitoes all my life.

I was born and raised on the shores of Lake Victoria. A small town called Musoma, in Tanzania, East Africa. There was no electricity and no telephone. The radio worked on an old fashioned car battery which needed to be charged every couple of days. The drinking water had to be boiled first. And malaria infested mosquitoes were everywhere.

Although much has changed in Africa now, malaria continues to be a dreaded illness. It kills an African child every 30 seconds. Being attacked by mosquitoes was like being attacked by “The Birds” in Hitchcock’s famous movie!

Every evening, all the rooms in the house had to be sprayed with DDT. Each night, at bedtime, we had to take a pill called Paludrin, as a prophylaxis against malaria.

We could not sleep at night without a mosquito net. Quite often a mosquito would get inside the net and buzz all night. You would be lucky if you did not get your blood sucked that night.

Doing home work in the evenings was a nightmare. The kerosene lit lamps would attract all kinds of bugs. The darkness under the table would attract mosquitoes. Malaria infested mosquitoes come out after dark to attack. DDT was used generously.

Then I went to India for higher education. The mosquito problem was the same. Mosquito nets had to be used. But there was no fear of malaria as India was free from that illness.

Then I spent several years in the United Kingdom. I don’t remember fighting mosquitoes there. It was always cold and damp. Mosquitoes are smart. They don’t like cold weather.

In Canada, I did not find mosquitoes a menace until I started golfing. I remember we used to complain about sand flies. Now we talk about mosquitoes only.

I don’t like mosquitoes. I am allergic to their bites. When I go golfing, I apply a good layer of sunscreen. Then I generously spray DEET containing repellents on the exposed areas of my body and some on my clothes.

The chemicals immediately change my body odor. The odor is tolerable when I am on the golf course – my friends probably don’t care how I smell. But when I come home, I am not touchable, not huggable, nor kissable. In spite of a thorough shower, my body odor is chemically compromised for at least 12 to 24 hours

In spite of all the precautions, I still end up getting at least three to five mosquito bites. They itch and burn after a shower. Then I apply After Bite to control the itching. That leaves its own smell on my body. I wonder how much damage these chemicals have caused and continue to cause to my skin and some important organs of my anatomy.

According to World Health Organization website, DDT has now been banned from agricultural use. May be I should have been a vegetable! But DDT still has an important role to play in saving lives and reducing the burden of malaria in some of the world’s poorest countries. Eventually, the plan is to eliminate the production and use of DDT.

Malaria is a life-threatening parasitic disease transmitted by mosquitoes. Today approximately 40 per cent of the world’s population, mostly those living in the world’s poorest countries, is at risk of malaria. It causes more than 300 million acute illnesses and at least one million deaths a year.

Africa is also the source West Nile virus. It was first isolated in 1937 from the blood of a patient on the West Nile province of Uganda. The man had fever. Initially, the outbreaks of the disease were few. But in the last 10 years the numbers have increased.

In North America, the virus was first detected in 1999. It was in New York. From there it was exported to Ontario. Last year, about 400 people in Ontario became infected with the virus. At least 19 people have died.

Most cases of West Nile virus are mild and self-resolving. But one per cent of cases get infection in the nervous system.

As I have learnt over the years, mosquitoes are dangerous. If you want to enjoy the fresh air and the outdoors then learn to protect yourselves. I take no chances. Besides, I react quite badly to the mosquito bites. Ouch!

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