Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A love-hate affair: How to live with mosquitoes

This post is dedicated to a special friend of mine who has a very unique relationship with mosquitoes. It's not love, nor is it aversion. It's more like an acknowledgement and agreement to live in relative harmony with these blood-sucking critters. Rather than obliterate these insects he finds weird and crazy ways of catching them live and evicting them from his home! It's genuinely funny to watch. 

For my part, I have a healthy dislike towards those dastardly mozzies! However, the mosquitoes seem to love me, or rather, love my juicy blood mad

When I first moved to Sri Lanka I knew I'd have a hard time adjusting to the mosquito situation. I just wasn't used to sharing my space with them, let alone thinking about them. When you live in the tropics you quickly learn that air circulation is a major requirement, so all homes are custom-built with open air vents above the windows to allow air to freely move in-and-out of the home. If everything is closed off then things tend to go downhill fast - mustiness, dirt and mold start to fester. But, if there are open vents these are the ways mosquitoes enter your space. And it only takes one mosquito to hurt you!

However, if you're not keen on being "eaten alive" then you have to get with the program pretty darn quick. I've had some nasty experiences rocking up to friends' houses in skirts rather than pants (or should I say trousers!) and then being bitten so bad my legs have resembled pink poker dot patterns and I had itching down to an art form!

It has now been six years and I'm starting to get the hang of how to deal. I've learnt simple things like, I can keep my windows open till mid-afternoon without any mosquitoes invading my home. After this time, all bets are off! Mosquito nets are a god-send. They literally saved my life in the early days. And I usually pack a net with me if I'm on a road trip or travelling around the island. These days I'm also much better at wearing appropriate attire for spending evenings outside or at other people's places. Also, after heavy rainfall it's good to ensure there aren't small pools or buckets of water collected around your garden as this provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes. This is especially important in areas where dengue is an issue.


Dengue continues to be a problem in Colombo according to newspaper reports and updates from the Ministry of Health. Mosquito breeding places around Colombo that lack proper sanitation, including some schools and construction sites continue to be an issue. The latest Dengue Update dated 29 April 2014 states "During the last 4 months of the year 2014, 8150 suspected dengue cases have been reported to the Epidemiology Unit from all over the island." Almost 60% of these cases were reported in the Western Province. The partial good news is that since start of the year, the number of reported cases has been steadily declining month-on-month.

Article: Another dengue epidemic in Colombo 
Article: Ignoring advise, among main causes for dengue deaths

According to the Dengue Sri Lanka website:
"Dengue is transmitted by the bite of an Aedes mosquito infected with any one of the four dengue viruses. It occurs in tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world. Symptoms appear 3—14 days after the infective bite. Dengue fever is a febrile illness that affects infants, young children and adults. 
Symptoms range from a mild fever, to incapacitating high fever, with severe headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint pain, and rash. There are no specific antiviral medicines for dengue. It is important to maintain hydration."

Tips on making your home mosquito free

Over the years I've learnt some innovative methods for making your home relatively mosquito free. I have a dislike for using mosquito coils as I'm uncertain of the health effects of prolonged use. Mosquito coils when lit emit a mosquito repelling incense. There are also other products like electronic mosquito repellents that are designed to repel female mosquitoes by emitting high-pitched sounds almost inaudible to the human ear. However, there is no evidence to support if this actually works.

So, rather than use those sorts of repellants, my interest has been focused on how to make my home more mosquito free. It's a little like replicating the common practice of having fly-screens on doors and windows to deter flies.

The first is a quick and easy, semi-temporary solution. I've applied this recently with my new accommodation in Kandy. All you need is duct tape, mosquito netting material, measuring tape and scissors. The duct tape costs around Rs.165 per roll and the mosquito netting is approximately Rs.75 per yard. It's as simple as measuring up the air vents, cutting up the mosquito netting and taping them up. I used blue mosquito netting on white vents with white duct tape and you could hardly tell there was anything there.

A friend of mine, Lily, took a different approach and sealed the upper air vents with a clear plastic sheet as well as making window curtains out of fine lace material that had tiny holes, similar to mosquito netting (but looked far more attractive from a design perspective). She took this approach so she could keep her windows open throughout the day and night. After sewing the lace material to fit the window and also to enable rubber wire to be threaded through the top and bottom of the material. She used nail hooks to secure the rubber wire ends holding the lace material to cover the windows. It turned out fairly well and didn't cost too much. Plus, she was able to regularly removed the lace material to wash when required.

There are now much better solutions available in Sri Lanka, which are more permanent and longer-lasting. There are a number of companies in Colombo (small and medium-sized) that manufacture door and window frames with tough mosquito netting that are similar to fly-screens. I've fitted my Colombo residence with these window and door screens. The screens I have are removable, so I can remove them from time-to-time to wash them down and remove the accumulated dirt. It has totally transformed my world biggrin

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