Spring is here! Flowers are blooming, the sun is shining and the days are longer!
As delightful as that is though, now that it’s rolling into those warmer months, let’s talk about the major problem associated with the change of season- mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes are my arch enemy in life. They provide no purpose other than to annoy the s**t out of sweet tasting folks like me, buzzing around your ears at night and ruining summer barbeques. They also carry life endangering illnesses, requiring mind altering drugs to fix or prevent, leaving behind nothing but bite marks and bad memories. Science will hold some reason for their existence, but that purpose has failed to be properly explained to me.
My summers in Australia are often punctuated with red dots around my ankles. It’s as though the ankles are identified as the most discreet yet most aggravating place to attack. Come evening time the running joke revolves around me being under some form of house arrest, not allowed outside for fear of blood loss. I swear there is a worldwide mosquito union, hell bent on my destruction.
This presents a significant problem; my favourite area of the world to travel is Southeast Asia. The climate there- a mixture of warm weather and persistent humidity- makes it a perfect breeding ground for these spawns of Satan. This creates an issue for every traveller of how best to avoid bites and potential illness through the likes of malaria and dengue fever, something that is never a concern at home.
The length of your stay and area of travel should determine the best plan of attack, but any good doctor will tell you that the only sure fire way to avoid mosquito spread illness is to simply not get bitten.
While this advice is both practical and lazy, it is easier said than done. Who hasn’t had a couple of beers, forgotten about repellent and the next day ended up a hungover, bite ridden mess, lying on a bed, in a puddle of your own sweat ? That sounds fairly specific but there is an element of truth to it. I know many who understand this point all too well.
I would routinely apply repellent every evening; especially if it rained that day, the town had a lake or our accommodation was near a local temple (some have dirty looking, sacred ‘ponds’ a.k.a. breeding grounds). The consequences of forgetting to slip, slop, slap result in me twitching and jerking around like I’m on a nightclub dance floor, working on a theory that it’s harder to bite a moving target. The other option- wearing pants and a long sleeve shirt- just doesn’t sit well with me in a tropical climate. I sweat when it’s cold, so imagine what it’s like covered up at 100% humidity.
I have also used anti-malarial drugs. This won’t stop a person being bitten but it does prevent death. I’m comfortable with that.
There are two types of these pills, which are taken either daily or weekly. The side effects can be harsh though, and include increased sensitivity to sunlight and hallucinations. All medical recommendations I researched told me to avoid the weekly pills like a cat avoids water. Such news fills a potential traveller with both curiosity and trepidation.
So, naturally, the first time I went to Asia I ignored that educated advice.
The trip began comfortably enough. The first three weeks went by without concern- no major or noticeable side effects (not to me anyway). It was in the fourth week that the problems began. Increased sensitivity wasn’t necessarily an issue for me. I’m already a burn hazard. If I was any paler, I’d be see-through. But the hallucinations were quite disconcerting. They involved the unnerving sensation of what felt like my brain being detached from my spine and bouncing around the inside of my skull like a pinball. I’d wake up with a feeling of complete disorientation. The room would spin at speed and I couldn’t keep my head still. I was too scared to sleep and couldn’t walk in a straight line. It was like the end of a Saturday night out on the town minus the guilt and there was money left in my wallet. I swiftly changed to daily pills from that moment on.
Therein lies the problem. People hear horror stories about anti-malarial medication and seriously debate using it. The “it won’t happen to me” mentality kicks in. But, if you have ever witnessed someone suffering the effects of a mosquito borne illness, you will change your mind as fast as a politician at election time. Victims look dead on their feet, highlighted by cold sweats, grey skin and a lack of energy that makes a sloth seem energetic.
It can be just as bad for the friends or family left to help care for them. I met a Scottish gent in Chiang Mai, Thailand, who was clearly unwell. He was showing all of these symptoms, hadn’t taken any anti-malarial pills and had not worn repellent for his entire holiday. Having been ill for a few days already, his friends had to make a decision; take him to Bangkok to see a ‘real’ doctor or fly him home. They chose the mystery third option; put him on a twelve hour train ride to Bangkok on his own while they enjoyed the remainder of their trip without him. Considering he could only hold down small amounts of plain rice at the time, I’m sure they are all still firm friends. His well-being, I’m not so sure of.
In the end, mosquitoes are like university students when the beer is free; they are there whether you want them to be or not. So cover up, apply the repellent thick and hope for the best because they’ll get you. They always bloody get you.
Wayward Tip: DEET is your friend. Lather up until you have a semi-permanent shine like the arms of a professional wrestler. Wash your hands after application though, especially if you plan on eating within the next few hours. It has the ability to make your tongue go numb. Seriously.