Monday, September 15, 2014

Flying Assassins

Flying Assassins 
It is no secret back at home that while I love basically all creepy-crawlies (spiders included), I hate mosquitos. The way they hover totally creeps me out, and their simple presence makes me shiver. Even given my strong dislike of them, I had always had difficulty killing them—because extinguishing the life of any creature has never sat well with me—so I suffered in silence. Or at least I used to. Life in Costa Rica means being on mosquitos' home turf 24/7, so needless to say, I've had to get over my aversion.
The realization that I had made peace with the flying little bloodsuckers came to me as I looked around myself in the shower a week or two ago. As a rinsed out my hair, I glanced over my shoulder and realized I was sharing it with at least six of them. There were four resting on the walls at various heights, and two nonchalantly buzzing around my torso. Now I knew that there is only a 50% chance that any of these small insects were at all interested in drinking my blood because only the females bite, but it was only a small comfort. Nevertheless, I was still strangely detached from them given my opinion of them for the last 19 years of my life.
My new indifference to mosquitos, while a logical adaptation to my new surroundings, comes at strange time given that we are learning how dangerous they actually are. I know that for various reasons I am not at serious risk of dying from any mosquito-transmitted disease, but the million deaths that they are responsible for every year, and the hundreds of millions of people they infect with said potentially lethal diseases are devastating. Forget being scared of bears, sharks, or spiders, if you want to fear the creature responsible for most human deaths, mosquitos are your organism[1].
It also put my petty annoyance with them back home in perspective when compared to the life-altering impact that a single bite can have in so many countries. I don't mean to insinuate that the US is immune to mosquito-borne diseases, but on the whole our problems pale against countries suffering from epidemics of chikungunya, malaria, or hemorrhagic dengue fever.
With risks as severe as these, the need for serious prevention techniques became ever more clear. I by no means think that the few days of Dengue awareness and distribution of homemade mosquito traps made much of a discernible different in the fight against such diseases, but it still felt like a step in the right direction. I myself didn't know about the severity of mosquito-borne diseases, or how easily preventable they are. Clearing standing water, bed nets, and putting lids on wells and containers when not in use all can save lives.
Armed with newfound knowledge about such small assassins, and a healthy wariness instead of unfounded hatred for their existence on this planet, my excitement regarding a possible career in global health has only increased. Our environments and the creatures that live there are integrally linked to our wellbeing, so why not embrace the fact that we will have to continue to coexist with mosquitos, while actively working to prepare ourselves and others. I think I've been able to take the first step.

Isabel Obrien


[1] AMCA. "Mosquito-Borne Diseases." Mosquito-Borne Diseases. American Mosquito Control Association, 2014. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.

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