Our Mossie Fight

Did you know this about the Aedes mosquito?
I first studied about mosquitoes in Science class from Mr Raja, our secondary school Science teacher, and I remember how we tested his patience and embarrassed him by asking lots of curious questions especially in Biology lessons. 

Mr Raja introduced me to various types of mosquitoes – Culex, Aedes and Anopheles – and the diseases they spread.  It was fascinating to learn that minute creatures like mosquitoes are vectors that can transmit a virus from one person to another and cause so much pain and discomfort – and in some cases, even death. 

Giant model of Aedes mosquito seen at the
Megabugs Return! exhibition on now at the
Singapore Science Centre till August 18
I’m very prone to mosquito attacks as my skin will break out in red wheals and my friends know that I never leave home without a tube of soothing Mopiko.  I’m wary of mosquitoes, not only because of my instant itchy reaction to mosquitoes feeding on my blood, but because I’m familiar with the challenges involved in dealing with dengue fever and chikungunya attack. 

A few years ago, I was on a travel assignment in Tanjung Balau when I received a phone call from my friend, sounding desperate and delirious, saying that she needed a blanket!  Then I learnt that she was in a private hospital, warded for dengue fever and her repeated requests for an additional blanket seemed to be in vain.  I assured her that I will bring a blanket as soon as I’m back in city and immediately called another friend who worked with the hospital to arrange for a blanket to be provided as the dengue fever must have been giving our friend awful chills.

Patient at the counter of a private clinic
When I saw my friend in the hospital, she was resting with an intravenous drip to keep her hydrated but she was cheerful and determined to get well.  As there are no vaccines for dengue fever, the only medicine given was to control the fever and keep her comfortable.  With the recurring fever she also had no appetite to eat so throughout her hospital stay, I sent her my mum’s home-cooked food with slow-boiled soups to encourage her to eat and soon, she was on the road to full recovery.

For some patients, dengue can be fatal because a recent newspaper report stated that Johor recorded seven cases of deaths from dengue fever in the past six months.  The same report said that with 658 cases reported nationwide, the number of dengue cases compiled on a weekly basis showed that it has reached a critical level.  In neighbouring Singapore, there was a significant rise in the number of dengue fever cases with a record 816 cases in a single week [2 to 8 June], and between May and June, the city state recorded three deaths from dengue.

Sign outside the door at a private clinic
Both the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, Asian Tiger Mosquito species thrive in a wide range of water-filled breeding sites and there are many places in homes, offices, industrial sites and particularly in construction sites, where stagnant water can collect.  Take a closer look and be proactive about emptying artificial containers like discarded crockery, flower vases and saucers under potted plants and not overlook the bamboo stumps, tree holes and coconut shells in our gardens.  By pouring water out of containers, filling puddles or ponds and creating better drainage, we can do something helpful to eliminate mosquito breeding sites.  

Interestingly these mosquitoes bite throughout the day and their feeding activities peak in the early morning and late afternoon.  Both these species are found to feed outdoors but the greedy Aedes aegypti will readily feed indoors.  These findings simply mean that we are hardly free from mosquito attacks at all times of the day, whether we are indoors or out!

Large crowd of patients waiting to collect their prescriptions
at a clinic in Hospital Sultanah Aminah, Johor Baru
Like dengue fever, chikungunya is a rare viral fever that is transmitted by the bites of infected female Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes.  I first heard about chikungunya from reports on its outbreak in India and when I had my first attack, I was knocked out with fever, muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rashes but the joint pain was simply debilitating.  As in dengue, there are no vaccines and I did not regain my normal strength until a few months later but this horrible experience gave me antibodies to fight the virus when I had a second attack in mid 2009 and recently, to recover from my third attack in June.

The truth is dengue fever and chikungunya cannot spread directly from one person to another but it spreads when an infected Aedes mosquito bites another person with low immunity.  We can try to prevent mosquito bites by wearing protective clothing, using mosquito nets or by applying insect repellent but let’s go to the source and eliminate mosquitoes by getting rid of their breeding grounds.  The fact remains that dengue is the most life-threatening and fastest spreading mosquito-borne disease and we must do our part to eliminate the mosquito’s habitat and wipe out this dreadful disease in our own neighbourhoods.
A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 11 July 2013

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