My sister is in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, doing a month-long stint for our beloved Homeland Security (interviewing refugee claimants). Apparently the other day she discovered a tick attached to her thigh (I know: eww). She’s pretty hyper-aware of tropical infectious diseases (we’ve both lived in ultra-high-risk areas for long periods of time) so of course she’s afraid of dengue.
I told her that she probably won’t get dengue from a tick, but she very well might from a mosquito.
You know, I just don’t get mosquitos. What function do they serve? Houseflies regurgitate onto things and make them decay — their maggots even clean infected tissue — but mosquitoes, as far as I can see, have absolutely no function in life other than to spread disease and be food for other things.
But you would simply not believe what a masterful piece of work a mosquito is. And if you look at it one way, it’s not their fault that parasites and viruses hitch a ride with them, so they’re actually getting a bit of a bad rap.
But what a piece of work they are. If an insect could possibly be cunning, sinister, sneaky, greedy and vicious, that insect would be a mosquito. I kind of get why people are afraid of spiders. No, really, I do. If there’s one on the ceiling in my bedroom, do you think I’m going to turn out the lights and go to sleep? Uh-uh. But a spider can’t KILL you. In fact, there are very, very few insects that can actually KILL an adult human being. Scorpions can make you have an awful bad day, tarantulas are kind of a drag, hornets, well, let’s not get into them, but they can’t KILL you.
But skeeters can.
I remember a night, long ago, in a hotel in Rwanda (no really, I do) when it was pitch black and mosquitoes were swarming as I tried to sleep. We were all taking anti-malarials at the time but just the sheer annoyance of that dentist-drill buzz . . . like tiny little Stukas dive-bombing your ear — had me insane with anger. I wanted to smash their chitinous little bodies into little pieces with a samurai sword and then cut up the pieces.
But mosquitoes have changed the course of human history as long as there have been humans. Flies haven’t. Scorpions haven’t. But whole boatloads, no, fleetloads of explorers were killed by one of the hundreds (seems like) of diseases that mosquitoes carry. Who knows, someone might have discovered America 2,000 years earlier if they weren’t killed by yellow fever first.
The Panama Canal was almost never finished. The French actually gave up on it because they were all dying at such high rates. And no one had a clue that this buzzing little bastard was the cause.
I told Laurie that if I were her, I’d “take a shampoo in DEET” every day I was there.
Let’s keep our proboscises crossed.