Fri | Mar 22, 2019

Orville Taylor | Dengue ... time to change behaviour

Published:Friday | January 25, 2019 | 12:13 AM
Researchers studying the behaviour of mosquitoes at the Mosquito Control and Research Unit at The University of the West Indies.

While we buzzed about ‘Petrojelly,’ Venezuela, the state of public emergency, and plastic scandal ban, there was a small enemy building up for a devastating attack.

In the murder capital of the English-speaking Americas, the animal, which kills the most black people in the world, has already taken several lives and could very well start a slow massacre if we are not careful and have immediate behavioural change.

Globally in 2017, mosquitoes killed around half a million people. Sub-Saharan Africa, where most of us can trace our DNA to, accounts for around 90 per cent of all mosquito-caused deaths.

Malaria, except for a small outbreak a few years ago, has, by and large, eluded us. With a name that might be also responsible for the increase in mandible, tongue, and larynx diseases, chikungunya (chik-V) affected everyone, including on-air media personalities, who up to this day, cannot properly pronounce the word. Indeed, it was such an unusual name that Microsoft Word did not help my print media colleagues either.

It spread like wildfire, affected around 80 per cent of the Jamaican population, and having run its course, is as endemic as the Indian mongoose. It can rise again within the population that has not yet been affected.

By 2016, there came Zika, an easier-to-pronounce disease, but with scary consequences.

Our tiger-striped supervillain, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, carries the virus that causes chik-V, Zika, and the various forms of dengue.

Dengue is not generally fatal, but occasionally, people do die from complications associated with it. Risk factors increase if there are other medical conditions or other demographic vulnerabilities. What matters, though, is that that single individual could be you.

TIP OF THE ICEBERG

These viruses, like most other malicious microorganisms, may affect the person carrying it much less than they do the next person to whom it is transmitted.

Imagine having a small itch or a virtual asymptomatic infection of dengue and Zika, but a mosquito passes it on to your sister and she has to be hospitalised.

My fear is that dengue and the other known viruses might be the tip of the iceberg.

In all of this, whether the spending from Petrojam, the use of plastic scandal bags, or dengue, what is needed is drastic behavioural change.

Although described as a crepuscular insect – most active between around dusk and dawn – the Jamaican Aedes aegypti mosquito has no clock or watch and works flexitime. True, there might be peak activity times, but all you need to bite you is the one who ‘bleaches’ through the night.

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes like living near to homes and prefer stagnant, but not putrid water. They breed in small pools, even in bottle caps, and the eggs can remain viable for more than a year after the water has dried from the coconut, or eggshell, or garden vase. Anopheles (malaria) mosquitoes like water that moves slowly. In our gullies, there are both types of water, given the high debris content.

PENALISE THOSE WHO BREED MOSQUITOES AT HOME

Research by The University of the West Indies academics and students revealed that motor vehicle tyres are as attractive to mosquitoes as recording studios are to ghetto youth. What is scary is that they do not only lay eggs in the water that settles in them, but, in fact, they simply like to ‘hang out’ there even when the tyres are as dry as my pocket after Christmas.

For its part, the Government has to increase its enforcement of its environmental laws with no regard for status or the offenders. It is exactly the same sort of carelessness and nastiness that makes plastics choke our waterways and landfills.

I am happy that the Government is taking the situation in hand and arresting men who urinate in public. Will we also penalise those who disregard or ignore the warnings and breed mosquitoes at home?

At the individual level, we have to remove all sites for the creatures to breed and spray insecticide, or other natural chemicals, where they habituate, even when there is a drought.

And by the way, mosquitoes do not typically jump into hot callaloo.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.