Mortal combat: the expat wife vs. the mosquito

Cartoon © Natalie Dee |

Me again! I have a hard enough time posting twice a week, never mind twice in one day, but I’ve just realized that today is World Malaria Day. Malaria, as you probably know, is a mosquito-borne disease that’s prevalent in tropical and sub-tropical areas — especially Africa, where it claims the life of a child every 30 seconds.

Mosquitoes are a fact of life in my part of Canada. Our summers are hot and humid, so once the sun begins to set, the mozzies come out in full force. If you’ve ever been to cottage country in early July, you know just how delightful they can be. (Nothing like the black flies in early May, though: if Dante had added a 10th circle of hell, I’m convinced that would be it.)

Mosquitoes have always been nothing more than a seasonal nuisance. As a kid, walking around in public covered in lurid pink calamine splotches was more painful than the bite and the itching combined. But moving to Singapore changed that, because in Southeast Asia, as in much of the world, the little blood-suckers can be deadly.

Malaria was pretty much a non-issue in Singapore when we arrived in 2003. Not so dengue fever, which always seemed to be lurking in the shadows. There was a particularly nasty outbreak in 2005, and for a few months there, it wasn’t uncommon to see handmade “Dengue Here” signs posted outside affected condos.

Dengue is a miserable disease. The scary thing about it is that there’s no vaccine, and treatment options are limited. The scarier thing is that in severe cases it can lead to death, as it did 19 times throughout that horrible year.

Death to mosquitoes

Singapore has declared war on the mosquito. Stagnant water is a preferred spot for mosquitoes to lay their eggs, and the government is tireless in its efforts to eliminate breeding grounds in the home.

Mortal combat: the expat wife vs the mosquito

Government-issued flyer for maids.

The Mozzie Police once knocked on my door and very politely asked to inspect the house for stagnant water. Had they found any, we would have been fined about $200. We took the dengue threat seriously, though, and even made a point of keeping the toilet lids closed.

Large-scale spraying of insecticides — known as fogging — keeps the adult mosquito population in check. Despite the safety assurances trotted out by the National Environment Agency, I was never comfortable with it. It smelled like gasoline and left an oily film on the skin. How do I know, you ask? Unfortunately, the weekly fogging at my townhouse complex took place at the exact moment the girls got off the school bus. They had to run through the noxious mist to reach our front door.

The fogging probably damaged our respiratory systems, internal organs, and who knows what else, but the good news is we were rarely bothered by mosquitoes. Although… there was that time Elder Daughter got a bite smack in the middle of her chest. It looked disturbingly like a third nipple, which in sibling rivalry terms is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Every time my little polytheliac wandered into view, Younger Daughter would shout at her, “How are the triplets today?”

Maybe that’s why Elder Daughter never seemed to mind the fogging as much as the rest of us did.

To learn more about how you can help wipe out malaria for good, please click on the button below.

Roll Back Malaria World Malaria Day 2009

About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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14 Responses to Mortal combat: the expat wife vs. the mosquito

  1. amblerangel says:

    Ahh- growing up in the mosquito infested South I to am used to the fogging truck rolling through every evening. For some reason, after a hurricane, the mosquitos would grow to the size of eagles in swarms like locusts covering us from head to toe, where we would run after the fogger hoping to get a good caking of the oily mist. Good times, good times….I was most afraid of elephantitis (sp) though, even though it was limited at the time to Africa.

  2. heide says:

    When we did our look see visit to Angola, there was much made about the malarial risk but nothing was ever said about dengue. We were moving from Papua New Guinea, where dengue is fairly common and I was much more worried about it than malaria. So I asked the doctor at the company clinic about the dengue risk in Angola during our visit. She assured me there was no dengue risk. About a year or so after we moved there, the company medical director got very very sick. He was medivac-ed to London, where it was discovered that he had dengue fever. He was a fit, 40-something Englishman and he was laid flat by the disease. Because the dengue risk was never considered, it took a while to realize what it was. I can assure you, the company took the dengue risk seriously after that. Not to say that malaria isn’t worth worrying about, but it’s so easy to overlook another deadly mosquito-borne disease when the focus is on malaria and worrying about what anti-malarials to take.

    • Maria says:

      Malaria gets all the press, I think. I don’t believe I’d even heard of dengue before we moved to Singapore. Once I got there, I was a little surprised to discover that malaria was barely mentioned.

  3. gwen says:

    I have never been so mosquito paranoid as I am now living in India. Every morning my girls are covered in mosquito repellent and often again after school to go to the park. I sometimes worry what long term effects the sprays will have on them. The worst part is…the dengue mossies are out during the day and the malaria ones in evening. THere is never a safe time 😦 Oh and yes….the fogger….love that they always do the lobby to our building around 630 pm as we are coming in from park. The girls cover their faces and run for the lift. Yuck

    • Maria says:

      I didn’t know dengue and malaria mosquitos worked in shifts! Thanks for adding another piece of the puzzle. I think you have every reason to be paranoid: if the mosquitos don’t get you, the fogging probably will. 😦

  4. lyndasm says:

    After reading your post before going to bed last night, I was actually visited by the most persistent, ANNOYING mosquito in my bedroom! It was a pretty uncanny coincidence considering that I’ve never been bitten by a mosquito since living in Dubai. 🙂 I had to sleep in 3 different places to get away from it b/c it kept finding me but I couldn’t find it to kill it! ack!

    Being from Houston, mosquitos are something I choose to forget about when I’m feeling homesick. They are awful!

    • Maria says:

      I hope you don’t read my post about monkeys — who knows what your night would be like? LOL.

      I hate that feeling of lying in bed, hearing one of the little buggers droning on and on, and not being able to relax because you know it’s stalking you.

  5. We worry about West Nile Virus here in the southern USA, not malaria (aren’t we lucky?)
    I guess the fogging is necessary…..not a big fan of chemical pesticides.
    Bats can eat up to 8000 mosquitos in one night. We built some bat houses in our yard hoping they will help and we will have nice fat bats!

    • Maria says:

      We’ve have our concerns about West Virus here in southern Ontario as well. We don’t get the fogging here, though. But to tell you the truth, even though I admire your ingenuity more than I can say, I think I’d rather have the fogging than the bats!

  6. Crystal says:

    I also find the fogging in Singapore to be dismaying. I understand why it’s necessary (and just try spending a day at the bird park, where they don’t spray, for somparison…I come home with 10 bites), but I’m a bit frightened by that noxious cloud.

    • Maria says:

      My gut feeling is that anything that smells like gasoline can’t be good for you. But looking at the figures from World Malaria Day, I’m more afraid of the mosquitos than I am of the fogging.

  7. Invader_Stu says:

    I hate mosquitos and I don’t even have to worry about them spreading Malaria (being in Holland). I can’t imagine having to worry about that or having mosquito police knocking on your door.

    • Maria says:

      In fairness, they’re not really police. They’re actually inspectors from the National Environment Agency, and the one time they came to my house, they were extremely pleasant and polite. But yes, I’m also quite relieved I don’t have to worry about malaria and dengue any more!

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