Thursday, April 18, 2024

SATURDAY’S CHILD: Mosquitoes must die


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ONE OF THE EARLIEST JOKES I heard was about this quick-witted little boy whose teacher asked him to spell “mosquito”. He replied quickly, “Teacher, that small thing you want me to spell?  Why not give me something bigger like ‘dog’, ‘cat’ or even ‘lion’?” 

In terms of the damage it has done, can do, is doing now and will continue to do, the mosquito might actually deserve its “big” name. During Mosquito Week in April this year, Bill Gates asked, “What would you say is the most dangerous animal on Earth? Sharks? Snakes? Humans?” Gates proposed, “Of course, the answer depends on how you define dangerous . . . . But if you’re judging by how many people are killed by an animal every year, then the answer isn’t any of the above. It’s mosquitoes.

When it comes to killing humans, no other animal even comes close.” Not Josef Stalin, not Adolf Hitler, not even Genghis Khan. Sharks kill about ten people a year, tapeworms about 2 000, snakes kill about 50 000, humans roughly 475 000 and rising if the Trinidad police have their way, but mosquitoes eliminate or terminate, in some cases like dengue, chikungunya and malaria with extreme prejudice, about 725 000 people if Gates is right.

However, the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research institute says that malaria alone causes over 500 million infections a year and over one million deaths. There are about 700 million people infected by mosquito-related diseases every year.

It is easy, especially given how tiny the creatures are, to consider them harmless. Sure they are a nuisance, and this is what most people think, but a serious health threat of such immense proportions? No way.

This is what some Jamaicans think. According to Erica Virtue, a senior Gleaner writer, in the September 28 edition of the paper, “Scores of Jamaicans brought to their knees by chikungunya-like symptoms have dismissed medical and scientific explanations that the virus is being spread by mosquitoes.

“Many, including highly educated Jamaicans, are swearing on their aching joints that they were not bitten by any mosquitoes yet they have been stricken by the illness. ‘I believe that it is an airborne virus, which is easily contracted. I have long since dismissed the thought that it is caused by mosquitoes. Do these mosquitoes take bus or taxis  to other parishes?’ declared Portland resident Annmarie Bennett.”

Ms Virtue quotes other Jamaicans, “It’s not mosquitoes spreading it because look how long mosquitoes deh round and this is the first case of mosquito giving chik-V. I don’t believe that,” an adamant Bobbette Parchment declared in downtown Kingston as she pointed to the rashes which she has developed in the past few days.

“I don’t believe that the mosquito caused it. I don’t know what cause it, but I know that even before the outbreak, I keep my doors locked and the place sprayed regularly. I don’t see how mosquitoes could bite me,” said supermarket employee Derron Johnson.

The most extreme reaction is that the outbreak of chikungunya in Jamaica is linked to a recent crash of a plane carrying businessman Laurence Glazer and his wife Jane, which crashed off the coast of Port Antonio last month.

Ms Virtue writes: “With entire communities becoming afflicted with the virus, sporting events being disrupted, and more and more persons rushing for medical treatment, these theories are gaining traction despite the local and international literature which rubbish these claims.”

It is what is happening in other parts of the world. The World Health Organisation (WHO) insists that “Busting the myths about Ebola is crucial to stop the transmission of the disease in Guinea.” Some people believe that eating raw onions once a day for three days will protect them from Ebola. Others think that a daily intake of condensed milk can prevent infection from the disease. With so many Ebola deaths, fear has fuelled the spread of rumours and misinformation.

The enemy is well known. It is the Aedes aegypti mosquito. It is what spreads dengue or “break bone” fever. It has now branched out in chikungunya or “that which bends up” – meaning the pain that is associated with the disease. Because we are its breakfast, lunch and dinner, the mosquito lives and breeds in our homes, close to us.

I was part of a sixteen-country dengue project in the 1990s, and when I returned to the field in 2012 and 2013, I found the situation worse than it was before. What bothered me then and now is the cynicism of the ministries of health in the region.

They send out these “spray” vehicles full of noxious fumes knowing that their effect on the Aedes aegypti is minimal and that the only way to reduce the impact of the diseases is what is called “source reduction”, or keeping the mosquitoes from breeding in and around the home. By not helping us get rid of the mosquitoes we now have chikungunya in addition to dengue.

One has to ask, if the ministries with all their “vector control” workers continue with the same attitude, what will come at us next? 

• Tony Deyal was last seen saying that we take mosquitoes in our homes so much for granted that most of the Jamaicans who have chikungunya swear they have not been bitten by mosquitoes.


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