Outbreak of dengue hits Brazil

Seriously, are mosquitoes good for anything? I am a believer in the ecosystem and all that, but I could easily support a plan in which mosquitoes would be replaced with some nicer insects.

CNN reports today that Brazil has reported more than 55,000 cases of dengue, which can be a deadly mosquito-borne disease, in the past four months. Dengue has killed 67 people this year in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro state. Slightly less than half of the deaths were children under the age of 13.

We don’t know whether the deaths were attributed to the more severe form of dengue, dengue hemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal if unrecognized and not properly treated. With treatment, fatalities due to dengue hemorrhagic fever, which is characterized by abnormal internal or external bleeding, can be less than 1 percent.

Dengue fever, the more common form of dengue, is apparently caused by four closely related viruses. All of them are carried by infected mosquitoes, mainly the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, also known as yellow fever mosquito. Mosquitoes carrying dengue viruses breed in stored, exposed water, including places as shallow as jars, discarded bottles and plant saucers. There are 10 million cases of dengue around the world each year, so this is actually quite common.

Prevention? You have heard it a million times. Wear long sleeves, loose, baggy pants and make sure you’re using good insect repellent. Symptoms? High fever, severe headache, backache, joint pains and eye pain, nausea, vomiting and a rash.

Mosquitoes suck.

War in Panama: attack of the sandflies

Yes, these are my legs. Yes, they have seen better days. I woke up a couple of nights ago and counted 85 sandfly bites on my left calf alone. I don’t understand why I don’t see anyone else chewed to pieces. Why do they love me so much?

Last week, I spent trekking through the Corcovadorainforest in Costa Rica and didn’t get a single bite. I was ready to fight mosquitoes in Panama’s Bocas del Toro, but I wasn’t prepared for sandflies! They have mosquito nets here but those pose no problem for sandflies. The sandfly is basically invisible, doesn’t make a noise, is about a quarter of the size of a mosquito and much faster. By the time you feel them biting you, they are gone. If there is a definition of irregular warfare, this must be damn close.

I brought repellent (40% DEET) and have been using it religiously during my hikes through the jungle. I should have been better about putting it on at night, I guess. That’s when sandflies attack. Apparently, most sandflies are harmless (except for the really itchy bites) but some carry the parasite Leishmaniasis, which can result in ugly sores, scars and if left untreated, death.* That does not sound like fun. Meanwhile, I am putting all my energy into NOT scratching.

* I find that 5 to 6 bottles of Panama beer makes one forget about the imminent death by tropical parasites.

Easy, Portable Bug Chaser

When I lived in Zambia, keeping mosquitoes at bay was a challenge. The Peace Corps gave us DEET so heavy-duty that it melted everything it touched, which made slathering it on my legs pretty unappealing.

Soon, I began burning mosquito coils. Cheap and effective, after 3 years, I had little burn marks all over my home from where I had balanced them, forgotten them, and discovered them after they had branded every flat surface from my desk to my short wave. While I prided myself in simple, creative solutions while in Africa, for some reason, figuring out a better way to use these coils evaded me.

Alaska Outdoor Journal has brainstormed an obvious solution: hang the coil inside a metal screen. By cutting a 5″ x 12″ piece of metal screen and folding it in half, you can create a mosquito coil “sleeve,” which you can suspend from just about anything. For only a few cents, you can easily make some of these prior to your next camping trip.

Duh. Why didn’t I think of this?

Take Those Malaria Pills!!!

Let’s say you’re on your way to vaca abroad in
some foreign land where the food is strange and even a little smelly, they drive on the opposite side of the road and
perhaps the locals are less inclined to wear deodorant; these are all things you can live with upon your return home.
Now let’s also imagine someone told you about an infected mosquito carrying a tiny pet parasite that could potentially
grow and multiply in your liver, wreak havoc on your red blood cells and multiply some more after the mosquito has
dearly departed  from your flesh. Without the appropriate protective measures you could potentially die from what
seemed like the average insect bite. Chances are you’d break out in a cold-sweat thinking of the dangerous winged bug
and could even be ready to call off your great  adventure through the Amazon basin of Bolivia.

don’t let the scenario above throw off the mood of your entire trip, but I bring this up because not enough people seem
to be taking antimalarial pills before trekking out into the unknown. The LA
Times has an article
pointing out the number of malaria related
deaths (a million die annually) and how a third of travelers
tend to skip out
on taking prescribed antimalarial drugs. It seems many aren’t thinking enough about the disease and
rely on insect repellent and bed netting to protect them when they should be used in addition to the pills. Other doctor
recommended suggestions include limiting outdoor activities from dusk to dawn when mosquitoes bite as well as wearing
long sleeve shirts and pants.

Antimalarial pills should be taken before, during and after visiting high risk areas. Additional malaria information can be found by
visiting the CDC.