Monday, September 13, 2010

Bug off

Entrap, search and destroy. Saturation drive. Hotspots.

The language betrays what’s now out of the public’s affections: mosquitoes.

According to a Sept. 10, 2010 article published in Sun.Star Cebu, Cebu barangays’ anti-dengue drives run the gamut from issuing citation tickets to those caught dumping trash to terminating bugs with extreme prejudice.

About 100 personnel and volunteers beefed up a police team that, armed with brooms and dustpans, assaulted and flushed out dengue carriers from a suspected hideout in Camputhaw.

Midwives in Naga City, a dengue hot spot, lure with an “ovi trap,” a black-painted can with a piece of wood sticking out to entice mosquitoes to lay eggs.

It’s no overkill since, according to the Sun.Star Cebu report, the Cebu City Health Department has recorded 12 deaths from dengue this year, with 1,424 cases reported in Cebu City alone from Jan. 1 to Sept. 8.

Yet, as suggested in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, a classic on strategy and conflict, one courts victory by knowing the enemy.

Who is the mosquito?

According to an article by Russell McLendon, “Are mosquitoes becoming more dangerous?” (, global warming and international travel have spread mosquito-borne diseases beyond the warm and humid climes their carriers were once limited to.

Secondly, while pesticides force the mosquitoes into exile for decades, the mosquito-borne virus returns with a vengeance, more resistant and more virulent with every renewed attack.

Three things seem to control mosquito numbers: the density of people, amount of rainfall, and length of summer.

Because the Earth’s surface is getting “warmer and weirder,” mosquito bonanzas are sure to follow warmer temperature, elevated humidity, and heavy precipitation.

While the dengue-spreading Aedes aegypti does not live in mid-latitude regions, scientists predict that shifting climates will eventually spread this mosquito and its deadly package. This prediction is based on studies of the Wyeomia smithii, a mosquito that eventually reached North America after taking off during the last ice age and following the worldwide flow of rising temperatures.

Climate change has brought upon the season of “endless summer”. This means “more mosquito time,” writes McLendon. Mosquitoes take advantage of longer days to reproduce and hibernate. Capitalizing on global warming, the Wyeomia smithii now delays its dormancy to adjust to late winters. Mosquitoes learn as fast as they breed; they can make these crucial life-cycle adaptations within five years.

As we all know, standing water makes for a mosquito-friendly habitat. Global warming, though, is making rainfalls more violent, storms more extreme and erratic. Congested settlements and denuded forests take care of the floods. The result? A boom in mosquito breeding.

Humans’ main problem, though, is not a few mosquitoes, says the US Department of Agriculture’s Mosquito and Fly Research Unit.

It’s the humans that are really moving the viruses around the world. A person who catches dengue fever has a seven-day incubation period. That’s time enough for a person to visit several places, get bitten by local mosquitoes, and infect these potential carriers before falling sick and getting “de-bugged”.

In tracking the path of bugs and men, Sun Tzu’s advice applies: “Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.”

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Sept. 12, 2010 issue of the “Matamata” column

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