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SATURDAY’S CHILD: Din, diner and dinner

Tony Deyal

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Public speakers have different ways of starting their speeches. For example, the man whose topic was Sex got up, looked at the audience, said, “Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure,” and then sat down.Some talk about a bikini speech (one that covers the essentials) or a cellophane speech (one that reveals everything and leaves nothing to the imagination).  I have a favourite opening line which I use when the audience is right. It is: “Ladies and gentlemen, I feel like a mosquito in a nudist camp. I know what I have to do but I don’t know where to start.”Later, as I started working at the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) I realised that mosquitoes know where to start. According to a BBC article, entitled Thou Shalt Not Suffer A Mosquito To Live: “Mosquitoes are also attracted by certain alcohols . . . . Mosquitoes are also attracted by other chemicals in our skin which is why some people are bitten more often than others. People who do not sweat as profusely as others are not bitten as often.”So if you’re drunk and sweaty, they start with you. In fact, one man swatted ten mosquitoes in his kitchen. He boasted to his wife that six were male and four were female. When she asked him how he could tell the difference in sexes, he replied: “Six were hiding inside an empty beer can, so they had to be male, and four were on the mirror.”The reason the females were on the mirror and not in the beer can is that (as the BBC article said), “while the males typically live only a few days after mating, the female can live for several days or even a couple of weeks repeating the mating, feeding and egg laying cycle several times”. They have to look their best to attract a new mate. Interestingly, only female mosquitoes are biters. They are attracted to people wearing dark clothing and, according to a new study, prefer beer drinkers.   According to the study, “beer consumption consistently increased attractiveness to mosquitoes”.What compounds the problem is that in addition to knowing what they have to do and where to start, mosquitoes don’t know when to stop.  Unfortunately, this is a problem that is common to public speakers, especially those on political platforms, who themselves have been likened to other creatures like mosquitoes, leeches and vampires that practise hematophagy or blood sucking.  They are all, as the BBC article stated, “nasty little blighters” but the mosquito takes the cake, icing, candles and plates when it comes to their potential to commit grievous bodily harm. “To most people in civilised areas, mosquitoes are merely considered pests . . . . However, something you may not know is they have the deadliest bite known to man. A shark might bite you in half, lions can tear you limb from limb, and a snake can inject you with a toxin that will leave you a quivering mass in minutes. Nevertheless, they just don’t have the numbers. More people die every year from the bite of the lowly mosquito than the bites of all other beasts put together,” stated the article. Mosquitoes cause more human suffering than any other organism. There are more mosquito-related deaths than AIDS deaths. One out of 17, or over one million people per year, die from mosquito-related infections. Mosquitoes are called “vectors” because they transmit disease. They are “vextors” because they can irritate the heck out of you. But if killing was a sport, the mosquito would win the title of “vector ludorum”.Earlier this week, I started the first of two three-day communication workshops – funded by the Pan American Health Organisation – for vector control workers, all public servants, in Antigua and Barbuda. The major problem we are trying to deal with is dengue fever which is associated with the Aedes aegypti mosquito.  Climate change has now transformed the weather patterns of most Caribbean countries to the extent that where formerly we had one distinct dry and one distinct wet or rainy season, we now have many alternating periods of heavy, torrential rains and cloudless hot days. Mosquitoes have more breeding periods and, unlike most of today’s generation, they don’t need calculators to multiply. The statistics are staggering and every country is either experiencing or facing the threat of dengue and dengue haemorrhagic fever.  The best way to deal with the problem is to kill the mosquitoes at source and the only people who can do that are householders and communities working closely with the vector control specialists.  The Aedes aegypti mosquito lives in and around our homes so as to be near their food source – us! In the midst of the din, we are the diner and the dinner; the restaurant, the appetiser and the main course. Dengue is our business as much as the government’s, or even more if we value our lives and those of our children.• Tony Deyal was last seen talking about the two Jamaican mosquitoes who saw a man walking. One said to the other, “Let’s take him with us to the swamp.” The other one said, “Nah.  If we do that the big mosquitoes will take him away from us like they always do.”