Arlene Rose | After the fog clears: Why mosquito fogging may not be the best way
The looming threat of ZIKV, chik-V, dengue fever, and all other mosquito-borne viruses have led us to consider 'waging war' on mosquitoes.
Armed with the most deadly mosquito killers, approved and well-stocked vehicles drive through our neighbourhoods, belching plumes of fog over the community.
Most persons being home are perhaps a bit wary of opening windows to let it into their homes. Generally, at that time of evening, almost everyone is home.
Reading the newspapers, we have been reassured that all is well, there is nothing to fear, and that if we have persons inside who are 'irritated' or have respiratory difficulties from fogging, it may be a good idea to obtain a schedule and try to leave our homes at that time, or we can place a piece of cloth over our mouths.
Looking more deeply into fogging revealed some very scary facts.
First, that we are using either three chemicals malathion, deltamethrin, or anvil with gas oil (according to a local newspaper).
When I contacted the Ministry of Health this month, I was told we were using Malathion. Interestingly, Malathion was one of three chemicals used in the notorious gas chambers during the mass genocide of Jews during the Holocaust. It is a well-known nerve toxin.
According to the Journal of Pesticide Reform, malathion may cause muscle twitches, nausea, blurred vision, ascending paralysis, seizures, birth defects, reproductive problems, genetic damage and behavioural changes.
It is interesting that some of these effects are the very symptoms we are trying to avoid from some of these viruses.
It gets worse.
Malathion breaks down in warm climates rapidly into a chemical 40 times more toxic, that may weaken the immune system against cancers and even the viruses we are trying to prevent.
I recall how thoroughly we were fogged during the chik-V epidemic. On paper, only a small number of cases were confirmed, yet every Jamaican knows scores of persons who had the characteristic symptoms, and even some persons who are still suffering from the lasting effects.
According to Epidemiology, a scientific journal, babies from mothers exposed to malathion during the second trimester of pregnancy had more than double the incidence of digestive problems.
Even worse, The Lancet has quoted in a study that there may be an increased risk of childhood leukemias from exposure. The Journal of Environmental Health has stated that pesticides are one of the five worst threats to children's health. The frequency of exposure obviously worsens these effects.
Quite a few persons who have been exposed to this pesticide have been hospitalised.
Deltamethrin is one of the most toxic pesticides, and anvil has been linked to tumour growth and cancers of the reproductive organs, including breast and prostate cancers. Fogging also occurs near to our water supply, dams, and I shudder to think of the toxic effects of that.
In the past, large health authorities have made broad statements, which were later proven to be incorrect when the fallout was seen and statistics finally tallied.
I truly have to be clear that I have to applaud our Government for doing something in an attempt to protect us, but, in my opinion, there has to be a better way.
I recall my friend telling me of her son putting his head out the window to watch the fog, and subsequently having a seizure.
I note the fact that I am hearing of more cancer, strokes, sickness, in general, both in my practice as a doctor and as a citizen of Jamaica. I believe that, as a nation, it would suit us to find a better way.
Some parts of Africa, Guatemala and Israel are very successfully, using 'easy-to-make' traps, and are literally significantly lowering mosquito counts and disease prevalence.
I have read that there have been about four casualties so far due to Zika, worldwide. I wonder how many casualties we will have as a result of toxic effects of fogging.
Let us not let fear cloud our judgment. There are other ways to eliminate mosquitoes than fogging. The forward-thinking communities in other countries are learning to set up cheap, safe mosquito traps that are about 80-90 per cent effective at eliminating mosquitoes and their diseases.
These ovitraps, as they are called, have been effective at stopping the Aedes aegypti and other mosquitoes by attracting them and killing the disease carriers among them.
If we learn to make these traps that don't just kill the mosquitoes, but even the other stages of development, we would be better off.
The pregnant female mosquito is the real threat, as she is the one that bites humans. Also, one female mosquito can produce up to 3,000 eggs in her lifetime. That is a lot of eggs.
LEAST EFFECTIVE METHOD
Fogging has been described by some experts as the least effective method because it only kills airborne mosquitoes and doesn't specifically target females, eggs or larval stages.
If that is the case, I believe it's time for us to take a stand and stop the fogging, roll up our sleeves, and start learning how to make traps geared towards attracting and systematically killing the female mosquito.
I do not want my children, or any member of my family to be casualties of something that is later accepted to be ineffective and deadly.
I would also like to have a fighting chance with a strong immune system, so that in the event that I do acquire a mosquito-borne disease, my body's immune system will be able to put up a good fight.
We can no longer turn a blind eye and pretend that all will be well if we carry on as usual. Jamaica already has some of the highest cancer rates worldwide for some cancers and, despite fogging, we get very severe attacks of mosquito-borne diseases, possibly due to our weakened immune systems.
If we don't take a stand and make changes now, I suspect the mosquitoes may be the only ones left when the fog clears.