Saturday, March 5, 2011

Battle of the Mozzies

There is a deadly foe in southern India.  It's the only thing that I dislike about this part of the world.  It's sly, it's cunning, it's insidious and it's relentless ... and it can drive you out of your mind if you don't find a way to fight it.

I'm talking about the mosquito.  A tiny little speck of a creature, it is nearly impossible to defeat.  Long after humans have driven themselves into extinction, mosquitoes will continue to rule the world.

There may be some of you out there whom mosquitoes don't like.  Unfortunately, I seem to be tasty mozzie fodder and, if I do nothing, by the end of a night here I will be covered in itchy red welts and driven crazy by the incessant buzz.  Not much non-chemical intervention seems to work:  not vitamins and garlic (which one friend told me to try), not wearing light colours (instead of dark, which is supposed to attract them more), not covering up in long sleeves and pants (they'll find a way in through the smallest of openings), not avoiding flowery shampoos and lotions.

My mozzie spray does work, but you know what?  It's got DEET, and DEET scares the life out of me.  I accidentally spilled some on the floor of my hut in Varkala, and it ate the varnish right off the floor in about two seconds flat.  Really, this is something that's safe to put on your skin?  I'm just not convinced of that; you are warned, when using, not to spray on irritated skin or under clothing, not to use on small children, and to wash off immediately after leaving the mosquito-infested area.  And here's what high enough concentrations of DEET (which, by the way, is a neurotoxin) can cause:   headache, tremors, weakness, paralysis, slurred speech, emotional / behavior changes, seizures and death. 

Yeah.  I think I'd rather just get a few mosquito bites.  But, while that's just an irritation in the Canadian wilderness (well, other than West Nile virus), it's a health hazard here and in many other parts of the world.  Among other things, mozzies can be carriers of any of these:   malaria (fever, chills, anemia, jaundice, muscle pain, vomiting, possible liver/kidney/respiratory failure, possible meningitis, possible internal hemorrhage from a ruptured spleen); dengue fever (rash, high fever, muscle and joint pain, nausea/vomiting, dehydration, possible convulsions); yellow fever (heart arrhythmia, bleeding/hemorrhage, delirium, fever, jaundice, vomiting blood, liver/renal failure); and encephalitis (swelling of the brain, confusion/disorientation, body stiffness, paralysis, seizures, severe headache, sudden unconsciousness).

Yeah.  I don't know about you, but any one of those would really put a damper in my holiday.  And some of them (dengue fever, for example) aren't even treatable.  All you can do is try not to get bitten in the first place.

So I used my evil DEET spray anyway, when I got desperate enough, as I couldn't find any "natural" alternatives in Toronto in the dead of winter before I left.  It got used up pretty quickly and I'm down to my back-up bottle of "kiddie" bug spray (still with DEET, but a much lower concentration so not quite as horrifying. 

I burned mosquito coils too, as I'd inherited some leftovers from a British girl I'd met who was heading home.  More chemicals:  they work if you're in range of the smoke, but I really didn't like to think about what I might be breathing in.  I think we've created enough of a toxic soup with all the chemicals in our world, I don't need to add any more.

My mozzie net (an attractive shade of pink) over my bed worked pretty well ... at least after I'd found the big hole one morning and patched it with duct tape (the traveller's all-purpose friend).  But it's hotter sleeping under one of those, even with a fan churning away furiously.

I got to like the little geckos who invaded my Varkala hut each night, as their diet consists mainly of mosquitoes.  I even forgave them for their incessant chirping (they're noisy little creatures) and learned to block it out well enough to go to sleep.

But, aside from gecko food, what other useful purpose do mosquitoes serve?  Why on earth did such a creature ever evolve?  They don't pollinate, like bees, or create useful soil, like worms, so I can't see what particular ecological contribution they make.  Surely the geckos and the purple martins and whatever else preys on mosquitoes could learn to live on something else, and the ecosystem could carry on just fine without that annoying, incessant, insanity-producing drone of the mosquito.

Until that day comes, I'll be huddling under my mosquito net.


  1. Great post!

    I shouldn't try reading blogs without my glasses. I thought I read "purple MARTINIS" and thought, hmmmm, did I have one too many glasses of wine last night?

    It's an incredibly dull, grey, wet, Saturday morning in Toronto and al the snow has either melted or is a dark brown sludge. To twist Dickens, You are in a far far better place!

    Off to Ottawa on a travel conference gig this week with a side-trip to go ice-fishing and snow-shoeing in Kawarthas. Worried about solidity of ice!

    Be well.

  2. I think it was too many glasses of wine :) Enjoy the snow and ice ... oddly, I kind of miss it!