Sometimes, it seems like the bugs are taking back the world.
New York’s got bedbugs, which are spreading all over the US. The blame, apparently, lies with the banning of toxic insecticides that were Even Worse Than Bedbugs: Malathion and Propoxur. There are now several websites – like bedbugger.com – devoted to tracking bedbug information and telling people how to get rid of them. And bedbug sniffer dogs, ubiquitous enough that the New York Times had an article about one in action.
In Delhi, though, the problem has been a prolonged monsoon, and thus, more mosquitoes. Here, the government can’t be blamed for chemical bans. DDT’s been widely used, as have other insecticides, but there’s no way to control mozzies across a whole city – or a whole nation. Meanwhile, the fast-breeding critters are evolving resistance. No, people are blaming the messy construction sites and workers living in poor conditions as the city tries to build its infrastructure for the Commonwealth Games scheduled for next month: Oct 3-14, 2010.
And nowadays, mosquitoes carry not just malaria – including some nasty variants – but dengue and chikungunya. It feels like India’s becoming a cross-roads for mozzy-borne diseases…
For individuals, the methods of mosquito protection are many, all with downsides. When I was a kid, it was standard procedure at my grandmother’s to close all the windows at sundown; and then have someone go through the house spraying Flit. (Formerly a Standard Oil product, Flit was replaced in India by Finit, made by Hindustan Petroleum, and now reformulated into various permethrin, pyrethrum and malathion insecticides.) They weren’t the only ones. Here’s a link to a curious Time magazine article from 1942, describing how “lads of good caste” were going around spraying walls with 5% pyrethrum/ 95% kerosene. I doubt too many people do this any more.
- Excluding mozzies with window and door screens, and keeping rooms closed after dark is still a good idea. But it’s probably not enough, since some insects would have gotten in already.
- Mosquito bednets are also a good idea.
- Long sleeved and long-legged sleep-wear blocks mozzies, too, as does using a light sheet covering even if it’s hot.
- Ceiling fans help, too; I don’t know if they dissipate the exhaled carbon dioxide that helps mozzies zero in on their targets, or whether they make it difficult for the critters to touch down.
- “Mosquito coils“ are a kind of incense that keeps mosquitoes away. Most of them contain pyrethrin. But it does mean inhaling the scented smoke all night.
- Mosquito repellents relying on a small chemical-saturated pad heated on a plug-in device. The insecticide is generally allethrin or pallethrin. The brand leader is “Good Knight” made by Godrej Sara Lee [rebranding under Godrej Household Products following Godrej’s acquisition of the Sara Lee stake in June 2010].
- Liquid repellents, including one launched by the same company using “transfluthrin”, a Bayer product.
- A number of anti-mosquito creams are also available, (with Dabur’s Odomos the venerable market leader). My problem with these is they only seem to last a few hours, seldom through the night.
ETA: Ironically, a couple of days after posting this, I dined at a Chinese restaurant, and as usual opened the Fortune Cookie afterward. Here’s what it said:
If you think you’re too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.
Like economic cycle, there is also mosquito menace cycle. This cycle has peaked in Delhi this year. Heavy monsoon has either caused or supported the peak.
Camphor is a natural mosquito repellent. Perhaps this is the reason for camphor burning in places of worship. Keeping a couple of camphor tablets in small quantum of water is helpful. They may also be placed on a warm/hot base to facilitate slow evaporation.
A bottle of eucalyptus oil kept open is effective too.