The Mosquito Palaver

Back in the colonial days, the tropical rainforest of Africa was called the “white-man’s grave” because of the number of white men that died from mosquito bites and malaria-fever. Today, right here in America, mosquitoes are biting white men again. Five people have already died and several are now sick.

The deadly mosquitoes have made their way into Washington D.C. The first victim in the American capital is now in the hospital. While president Bush is busy perfecting ways to either attack Iraq or remove Saddam Hussein, mosquitoes and the West Nile virus infection they cause may just be heading for the White-House.

Washington D.C. health officials said recently that the first victim in Washington is a 55year old resident of Northwest Washington. He was diagnosed at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, where he is Now receiving treatment for leukemia, said Theodore J. Gordon, the District’s senior deputy director for public health assurance.

The city’s announcement came as officials across the United States are battling the worst outbreak of West Nile virus since it was detected in the United States in 1999. A fifth Louisiana resident died from the virus recently, and the number of people infected in that state rose to 71. Mississippi had 22 confirmed human cases, while Texas had 10 suspected cases and Arkansas and Illinois each had one at the time of filing this report.

The mosquitoes are everywhere as a result of the summer heat wave. While a specie of mosquito is killing people in Africa via malaria, another specie is killing Americans via West Nile virus.

West Nile (WN) virus has emerged in recent years in temperate regions of Europe and North America, presenting a threat to public, equine, and animal health. The most serious manifestation of WN virus infection is fatal encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) in humans and horses, as well as mortality in certain domestic and wild birds.

Interestingly, the virus was first isolated from a febrile adult woman in the West Nile District of Uganda in 1937. The ecology was characterized in Egypt in the 1950s. The virus became recognized as a cause of severe human meningoencephalitis (inflammation of the spinal cord and brain) in elderly patients during an outbreak in Israel in 1957.The first appearance of WN virus in North America in 1999, with encephalitis reported in humans and horses, and the subsequent spread in the United States.

Three years after, in this summer of 2002, West Nile virus from mosquito bites is causing havoc and all across America, it is a new kind of panic. In Maryland, four mosquito pools have tested positive for the virus — two in Baltimore County and one each in Howard and Prince George’s counties. In Northern Virginia, the virus recently was found in 24 breeding pools in the Fort Myers area, five in Fairfax County and one near the Pentagon.

The mosquitoes that tested positive in the District were collected from Fort McNair in Southwest, Rock Creek Park in Northwest, the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in Northwest and the 3100 block of Connecticut Avenue, NW.

Medical doctors explain that West Nile virus can cause flu-like symptoms, including high fever and headaches – and a red rash on the torso. Doctors performed a spinal tap to test for West Nile virus after the man previously mentioned began exhibiting these symptoms.

As the mosquito panic grows across the country, particularly in the nation’s capital, Washington officials are planning to increase its efforts to kill the mosquito eggs and persuade residents to take preventive measures. D.C. officials add that the city’s mosquito eradication efforts must be intensified and that an aggressive public information campaign is needed.

In the Nigeria community here in Washington D.C., the mosquito palaver is generating mixed reactions. Nigerians here do not seem to be afraid of the Virus. It isn’t that they have immunity or anything like that, they don’t just believe that having escaped the elephant-like mosquitoes in Lagos and other Nigerian cities, they will come and die from mosquito bites in the United States. Which kin Mosquito be dat!

Of course, some kind of public awareness campaign may be useful here. Nigerians, like other nationals here, feel for America and the families of those that have died from mosquito bites. This case and the series of child kidnapping for which president Bush will rather first go on a month-long vacation before organizing a conference, however, seem to be saying that perhaps president Bush needs to give equal if not more attention to what is happening inside America like he is doing with the “obsessive” war on terrorism. The Mosquitoes are here!





Previously published in The Monitor

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