La Paz Is Fumigating

How long can you hold your breath?

Dengue, that debilitating viral disease transmitted by mosquitos, is still present in our state and continues to threaten us all. For this reason, our state health authorities are encouraging us to be vigilant and take preventive measures to avoid becoming infected by the little bastards. The mosquitos, not the state health authorities. 

The good news is that the number of reported dengue cases in the state has plummeted since 2014, a very bad year for dengue sufferers in our state and around the country. 4,591 cases were reported in the state that year, although the real numbers are probably much higher due to many cases going unreported. Still, in 2015, the official number of persons infected by the malaria like disease dropped to 441. So far this year, there have only been 62 reported cases in Southern Baja, according to the State´s Secretary of Health office, so it appears that progress is being made.

The municipality of La Paz now has a collection of ten mobile sprayers, or fumigators, it uses around the city. The crews have been slowly cruising through the neighborhoods with the sprayers installed in the back of pickups. In some areas, municipal workers walk down the streets carrying the loud machines that generate puffy white clouds of insecticide in an attempt to rid the areas of the undesirable “zancudos” (mosquitos).

While most dengue cases are non-fatal, around 2.5% of the world´s victims die, and more than half a million people are hospitalized every year, according to the World Health Organization. Last year, possibly as many as 100 million persons were infected with dengue around the world, and the numbers of victims has increased enormously in the past decade.

While some of the symptoms of the viral infection can be fairly inoffensive to some, (lucky), people and may even go unnoticed, most sufferers say dengue is like the flu but much worse. It is also often accompanied by high, persistent fevers that last even longer than malaria fevers. Intense head and body aches are common, too, and the disease can cause acute pain in the joints and bones. This is why dengue is also known as break-bone disease.

Dengue is common in the semi tropical and tropical areas of the world, and has four different strains. It frequently causes persistent fatigue, muscle pain, skin rashes, nausea, vomiting, and a host of other problems you do not want. I became sick by dengue in 2014 in La Paz, and I can tell you it is no fun. It stripped almost all of my energy for a solid week and gave me severe, persistent headaches, fevers, occasional cold shakes, a skin rash, and even made sleeping or lying down difficult at times.

Getting dengue is usually a very uncomfortable experience, although there are various degrees of severity. Once you get it, there´s not much you can do about it, other than to rest and drink plenty of fluids. The worst part of it usually lasts a week or so, but a full recovery may take much longer.

Of course, people who spend a lot of time outside, around their homes, working in the garden or on home projects, especially in urban areas, may be the most susceptible to infection from mosquito bites (the female mosquito is the transmitter), so using an effective mosquito repellant is strongly advised. It is in the early morning or early evening when zancudos are hungry and least considerate of others. Most mosquitos in La Paz usually disappear during the day, especially with the heat, although you can’t count on that.

Of course, removing any outdoor containers around the house that might hold water will reduce the chance of mosquitos multiplying.  It only takes a small quantity of water to attract mosquitos insistent on surviving and reproducing themselves. Eliminating any standing water around the home and using repellants are the best preventive measures.

Mate (má-tay in Spanish), the insecticide powder, is available from the health authorities to sprinkle on any possible breeding source. I often ask for a few extra bags, (they are very small), when the health department workers come around, and was told that additional mate can be obtained from the Departamento de Salud Pública at no charge.

It also seems to be a good idea to sprinkle mate on the “charcos”, or puddles, around the house after the rains to help control the zancudo population. Remember, “más vale prevenir que lamentar,” or, better to prevent than to lament, or as we say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.