Those Damned Mosquitos!
By Bruce Fraser
Leading up to Canada’s centennial in 1967, the federal and provincial governments made grants available to communities to construct commemorative public buildings, sports facilities and art works. Some of the larger cities built new concert halls and museums, some of the towns constructed new arenas, murals and statues proliferated everywhere. The community of Komarno, Manitoba commissioned a giant statue of a mosquito as their centennial project. It still stands proudly beside the highway leading into town. Given the size of the little beast, we humans certainly allocate a lot of time, energy and money to it. And, it seems that everyone thinks they have the worst mosquito infestation in the world.
At a minimum, mosquitoes are a nuisance – most of us have a mild allergic reaction to the saliva they exchange for our blood, some have a strong reaction. At worst, they can carry viruses and parasites that they also leave us with during the blood-sucking operation and that can lead to serious illness and death. Some of the many diseases borne by mosquitoes include Yellow Fever, Malaria, West Nile Virus, Dengue Fever, various brain infections including encephalitis, and a new one here in the Western Hemisphere – Chikungunya.
If you read the literature, you will find there are many strains of mosquitoes, and a few seem to cause most of the damage. In the midst of an attack, I doubt that many of us are interested in which variation is doing the damage; we just want to swat them and figure out how to keep them away from us. There are natural products and synthetics that help to prevent mosquitoes from being a bother, there are things you burn, stuff you rub onto your skin, sprays, traps, fans, netting and screens, no end of human ingenuity applied to keeping the little monsters away.
Once bitten, there are also a myriad of products to alleviate the itching and swelling. However, for the serious diseases there is a paucity of preventive measures available. There is currently no licensed vaccine for West Nile Virus, Dengue Fever or Chikungunya, although the Center for Disease Control reports that it is in Stage III trials with a vaccine for Dengue. Similarly, there are no specific medications to treat these diseases once contracted. Fortunately, the vast majority of cases are not life-threatening, and most infected people recover after a few days or weeks of fever and discomfort. Standard medicines that reduce fever, pain killers and anti-inflammatories are all we have available. Of course, it is the rare case that leads to a death that makes the headlines and leaves us wondering how to protect ourselves. Given that there have been 1.5 million reported West Nile infections since 1999, and it is estimated that 390 million people are infected with Dengue each year, even a small percentage of fatal infections will leave a lot of people dead.
Just as the female mosquitoes require the protein from blood to produce eggs, so they also need standing water in which to lay the eggs, and thick grasses or shrubbery in which to protect themselves from the dehydrating effect of the sun while they are plotting their next attack. Therefore, paying attention to the state of your property helps keep mosquitoes at bay – keep the grass cut, make sure there is no standing water after a rain storm, thin out those bushy shrubs.Those of us over 50 are considered to be at greater risk and therefore need to take more precautions. If you do start to experience a fever, joint or muscle pain, unusual headaches, a strange rash, fatigue or weakness you may want to check with your doctor.