There is one aspect of life that I would guess most of us are in agreement with ….. personal hatred of the little mosquito? Generally in the UK the weather conditions ensure that we don’t get too many but living in the tropics they become a constant nuisance at the very least, at best they encourage an absolute loathing. Anti-mosquito netting covers the windows and doors, nets hang from bedroom ceilings, not only for romantic reasons, and in food-preparation areas you often find a blue light that buzzes every time a mosquito is electrocuted on its wire covering. Hah!
If they don’t bite you in the daytime, you can bet your bottom dollar that they will at night time, any piece of exposed skin a tantalising place into which to sink their teeth, to suck up your blood. Very vampirish ….. and my mind runs off into vampire bats, our constant obsession with cinematic and literary blood-sucking humans ….. and Peter Cushing!! (Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and even The Brides of Dracula). I digress!
It’s always in the early hours you first hear it, that horrible sound, a sort of buzzzzzing ……. whining ……. you think it’s by your right ear, you lift your arm to swat it away ….. slap the side of your face …… and then you hear it again …. buzzzzzz …… now over the left ear …….. buzzzzz. How can they be so irritating, so persistent?
I remember very well, before a visit to Belize in 1983 to see some of my soldiers, I bought some Citronella to keep the buggers away. This despite the fact that Price Barracks, just near the international airfield (in this case ‘airfield’ is a better description than ‘airport’), was ‘fogged’ every evening with some revolting anti-mozzie concoction. (A synthetic pyrethroid insecticide with water vapour blasted out of the fogging machine). You got used to it and you knew it was good to have it done! On the way out on some jungle patrol the little citronella bottle broke …….. and Guatemalan infiltrators would have smelt me a mile away!
Whenever I go abroad to a country that has more mosquitos than in Britain, I get bitten. And when I get bitten it becomes irresistible to scratch it, itch it. In the night I grab any ointment I can find, irrespective of what it was originally for, such is the intense need to soothe the itch. Then of course it weeps some liquid. Weeks after I have returned to the UK the marks on my legs remain.
You will remember that in 2015 Brazil became the first country outside of Africa to have the mosquito affected with the Zika virus. Dengue fever is normal in such a tropical country but Zika was something new. Nothing to worry about you might think but then a link was suggested to the increase in the number of babies being born with a smaller head than normal (Microcephaly). The authorities were initially like the proverbial rabbits in car headlights but eventually a public campaign to educate the population as to how to reduce areas where the mosquito breeds was initiated …. simple preventative measure …. such as getting rid of stagnant water …… removing the Bromeliads, a plant which holds water in its central trunk, from the garden in the Sao Conrado house has meant that there is a noticeable drop in the number of mozzies.
Such was the international interest, not to say concern, that a UK laboratory Oxitec genetically modified a male mosquito, which do not bite humans, so that they were infertile. Mating with a female would render that mosquito unable to reproduce. The Public Health Authority in Brazil said they would form a committee to look at how the GM mosquitos could be imported to the country, as they currently had no such category; I suspect we’re still waiting! Meanwhile pregnant tourist abandoned plans to travel to Brazil
When you travel often, it’s rare you take the trouble to look at the guidance the foreign office in the UK post about various countries – eg advice on diseases, drinking water quality etc ……. and anyway it is often a little out of date. So it was with some surprise that we learned, arriving in Rio de Janeiro in January, that Yellow Fever was present in Minais Gerais, a Brazilian state next to Rio State. The driver recommended vaccination …….. immediately ……. well, once we had unpacked! After further investigation it was apparent there was a sta te-funded vaccination programme we could access. So one Wednesday morning not long after our arrival we arrive at a public health centre. I was going to write NHS centre but it’s not called that here. For British readers, incidentally, I acknowledge there are some issues we have with our own NHS, although I could not fault my own personal interaction/experience – exemplary! Here in Brazil generally the population feel the health facilities provided by the state are awful, hence the massive private health sector ……. so I wasn’t expecting a Rolls Royce service.
Just beneath a huge curving block of apartments and next to the entrance to the tunnel that takes the west-going traffic under Os Dois Irmaos mountain, the single story blue & white Gavea medical centre looked rather scruffy ……. but functional. We joined the seated queue in an outside corridor, established we were in the correct place ….. and waited. The water from the nearby air-conditioning unit dripped onto the concrete and ran in a thin stream across the path into the garden. Eventually it was our turn and we entered an office where a white-coated woman was ready to enter our details into the system…… as clearly we needed to give our details. Nothing happens in Brazil without giving your CPF (Cadastro Pessoa Fisica) number. You can’t buy an airline ticket or a mobile phone, or even a toaster without your CPF. One might imagine that this level of bureaucracy allows the state to evaluate trends in the habits of its population, although I can’t imagine why anyone would record the purchase of a toaster? You may recall from PC 35 that a Gap-year friend, whose mobile was stolen during a trip to Rio’s Carnival, asked Celina whether she could use her CPF. And when a cousin of Celina worked for an American lighting company providing gantry lighting for the 2016 Rio Olympics, they had to use her CPF when they wanted to purchase stuff.
Without a CPF it, ie me or I (?), was clearly a problem …. but eventually my passport number was accepted. We move across an outside passageway to another set of chairs; sounds familiar? Some people in the queue are ushered into a different office to the one we’re waiting for …. we shuffle up the chairs, anxious to keep our place. The door opens, someone comes out and we go in. Without much ceremony, the injection is administered to Celina; all very quick! But I have a problem – they have registered that I am over 65 – and I need a doctor to sign that my mental health is robust enough to have the injection! Half of me says: “Oh! Sh*t”; the other half says this makes sense, the state doesn’t want to get sued …… and that disclaimer I signed probably wouldn’t stand up in court! Drink tonic water for its Quine content, stay away from the mosquitos and find a doctor; sounds like a plan.
Fortunately good doctors thrive for the worried well of Brazil’s middle class; apart from the ordinary doctor, there are oncologists, podiatrists, paediatricians, chiropractors, osteopaths, physiologists, psychologists, cardiologists, rheumatologists, gastroenterologists, endocrinologists and more ‘…..ists’ too many to mention. A hurried telephone call, and we have the answer. The vaccine has not been tested enough and reportedly has had unfortunate side effects on the elderly! We ditch the idea …… and hope that no Yellow Fever-infected mosquito bites me in the bum!!
Richard 16th February 2017
PS There was even a fighter bomber in the Second World War called a Mosquito, the de Havilland DH 98. Built between 1941 and 1945 it was fast, highly manoeuvrable, built of wood ……. capable of delivering a … er? ……. Sting?
PPS And while we are on the subject, the Mosquito or Miskito coast was traditionally an area on the eastern shores of what are now Honduras and Nicaragua.