Fancy a Bite?

25 04 2008


Lake Baringo, Kenya


It had been a hot and humid night filled with the buzz and whine of unseen insects, the high-pitched lilt of frogs, and the occasional sing-song snort of hippos. I climbed from the stuffy tent and headed for rejuvenation in the cold showers. The cubicle was small and I eased in, closing the slatted wooden door behind me and hanging my towel and shorts on a rusty nail. As I turned to open the tap I noticed the mosquitoes.


Wall-to-wall mosquitoes. Covering every square inch of the three walls. Millions of them. It was like a horror film when someone enters the chamber filled with sleeping zombies, or that scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” when every roof, tree and telephone line is covered with starlings and crows.


I stood motionless and silent, wondering whether I could escape without rousing the masses and being eaten alive. The deliriously cold water dripped from the naked showerhead, taunting me to escape the heat. Reasoning that mosquitoes don’t bite during heavy rain, I turned on the water, all the while keeping an eye on the fuzzy wallpaper and an ear open for the sound of them licking their chops. The bloodsuckers didn’t stir. They’d clearly enjoyed a night of feasting and were now enduring the parasitic-equivalent of a hangover.  I finished washing, threw on my shorts, and fled as quickly as I could to dry off somewhere else.


In the First World, mosquitoes are little more than an inconvenience, but for most people in developing countries they are a threat from the moment they are born. While the worst we tend to suffer are nasty itchy bites, more than a billion people each year contract malaria, yellow fever and dengue.


Today is UN World Malaria Day, aimed at increasing awareness of the disease that infects more than half a billion people a year. The United Nations is endeavouring to eradicate the disease through education and the distribution of bed nets, repellent, and free or affordable drugs.


For tourists, malaria should be respected but not particularly feared. It can generally be avoided completely through the use of prophylactics, insect repellent, nets and by taking sensible precautions like wearing lighter coloured clothes, and covering up in the mornings and evenings. Should we still be unfortunate enough to contract it, we already have an advantage over many locals in that we are generally fit, strong and well fed. In addition, we usually have travel insurance and can access medication and proper medical care quickly even when on vacation. Although certainly not a pleasant experience, malaria is very rarely fatal for travellers unless they happen to be in an extremely remote area far removed from all medical assistance.


When travelling to any tropical area, be sure to visit your travel clinic before leaving – and if you ever have a nightmare of being locked naked in a small cubicle with several million blood-suckers staring hungrily, just remember to cover your unmentionables and run really, really quickly!


Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008





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