I'm a buffet. It's true. And, I hate mosquitos. One of my earliest memories is of hearing that annoying high pitched singing in my ears. I didn't know what it was. But I knew I didn't like it. When the existence of mosquitos was explained to me, I didn't like it so much that it became a point of teasing in my family. What's for lunch? I'd ask, scratching at bites. Fried mosquitos. With frites and mayonnaise. Seriously. I didn't know then what I do now... decades later I'd have a real enemy in my life... the tiger mosquito.
On my list of reasons to move away from the Deep South of the US, this wicked beast was a thing. A reason to move. A near-plea to take me away from the sub-tropics where they thrive. Yes, I was aware of the migration pattern of the tiger mosquito in Europe and that eventually I would have to deal with it in France too.
Living outdoors in a drier, temperate climate was much higher on the list of reasons to move back to Europe than the tiger mosquito.
Sadly, new reports show that the Vendée is firmly in the red zone in terms of the presence of the tiger mosquito. I can attest to having experienced a three or four bites in the last two summers.
Knowing there are 3000 species of the little mosquito vampires on our planet, how do you distinguish the bites? I'm asked that question often. Well, even for normal people there is a difference between a normal mosquito and a tiger mosquito bite. They show as dark red spots and they hurt a lot more. The bites are itchy and even painful.
Yours truly appears not to be categorizable under 'normal people'. On several occasions while living in the US, I've had to report sick to work.
Say what?! For a mosquito bite?
Trust me, I say this with blushing cheeks. For a tiger mosquito bite. I remember an occasion where I had them on each elbow and my arms swelled up so much that I couldn't bend them to type on my keyboard. I cannot begin to describe the pain and burning. OUCH! And strangely, scratching the itch doesn't bring relief, only more pain.
It is quite clear that I have some sort of allergic reaction to the tiger mosquito bite. The first time it happened in France (after four years of just the normal bites because my status as a buffet doesn't change when changing continents) I was so disappointed. Not just for myself, but for you too. I went in search for a website where these types of mosquitos are tracked and reported it immediately.
How do I protect myself against my enemy?
Due to the allergy, a tiger mosquito bite truly makes me feel 100% miserable. So, I pick my battles. The best protection is to stay out of their way! During the night I sleep with a fan blowing on me. At any time, I'll keep away from damp, shady areas. I wear light colored clothing for a top layer. No matter how hot it is outside, I layer up, At home e.g. having apéro on the terrace, I sit in a circle of citronella candles and incense lit about 30 minutes before venturing outside. The citronella incense I have bought from Action and Super U is quite good. When I go out (e.g. an evening market), I spray myself head to toe with repellent (pharmacy.) Then I make sure to be completely covered. No cute summer sandals for this girl! No. Trainers (sneakers) with socks, yoga pants tucked in, loose fitting trousers over that, long sleeves with the bottom layer fitting snugly around my wrists. Once dressed, I spray more repellent from head to toe.
What is being done about the situation ?
That's a very good question (and one you should ask when living in a red zone). When I lived in Memphis and Atlanta areas, trucks would drive around city neighborhoods around four o'clock in the morning to fumigate. Back in the day (see image) they would use DDT. Which, as we know, effectively destroys everything in its wake, including the planet. Nowadays I am not sure what they use, but they do still fumigate. Despite the nuisance, I wish they wouldn't but given the types of diseases that can be spread by certain types of mosquitos, I do understand.
I'm convinced my headstone will read: "Here lies Brenda. Killed by a tiger mosquito."
All kidding aside, let's get down to facts!
Out of the 3,000 species of mosquitoes, only three are responsible for the spread of human diseases.
- Anopheles mosquitoes can carry malaria, filariasis (or elephantiasis) and encephalitis.
- Culex mosquitoes can carry encephalitis, filariasis, and the West Nile virus.
- Aedes mosquitoes, among which the vicious Asian tiger, can carry yellow fever, dengue, and encephalitis
Given the fact that the Tiger Mosquito has colonized 64 departments in France (see map), it stands to reason that there is a plan in place to do something about it. Indeed, there IS A PLAN. You can read through the entire document here.
One of the measures taken is entomological surveillance : "the monitoring of traps installed on sites with a high risk of importation of the species from colonized areas or countries (main transport routes and traffic axes, communes in colonized zones, freight platforms, airports etc. These traps are collected at least once a month."
Upon detection of Aedes Albopictus:
- the Agence Regional de Santé (ARS) and the Directorate General of Health are informed
- the ARS is then responsible for informing the mayor(s) in the affected areas
- the mayors report back the date and means of intervention before they do it (because the type of intervention itself can be a health risk)
- after the intervention they report to ARS as to its effectiveness and then it is determined if further steps need to be taken
Intervention methods include:
- involves destroying or protecting the small breeding grounds e.g. by emptying standing water
- introducing predators (fish or small shellfish that eat larvae)
- introducing larvicides (such as Bacillus thuringiensis, temephos and pyriproxyfen)
- measures can also be taken against adult mosquitoes (and larvae) through pyrethroid-based thermal or cold foggers BUT some populations are resistant to pyrethroids
An informed mind is an empowered mind, I always say. As far as the beasties potentially spreading disease, we do live in a temperate European climate which reduces the risk compared to tropical climates. But between May 1 and June 18th this year, 3 cases of Dengue fever have been recorded in Pays de la Loire , 48 in France overall.
I don't think about it too much. To be honest, being allergic to the tiger mosquito is much more front and center in my life. The allergy is related to the immune system reacting to proteins in the mosquito’s saliva. The image here was taken last summer. Two regular mosquito bites are clearly visible (bottom right) vs what a tiger mosquito bite does to my skin. The difference is extreme. The bite will swell to a hot, blistering welt at least twice the size of my hand, lasts a week of which the first two or three days are hell. Perhaps not entirely visible, it wraps around my arm. It also makes me feel 100% miserable: achy, unable to concentrate, disoriented, and feverish.
Of course not everybody is allergic. You can recognize the bites in a cluster of itchy dark red spots perhaps bigger than a regular mosquito bite. Hot compresses help in the long term but ice packs will help numb the pain a little. Insect bite creams only help a little (tip keep that in the fridge!). I also take hot showers and let the water run over the bite. If, like me, you have weird, painful skin reactions like a large red welts that turn bruisy, have a fever, or vomiting, swollen lymph nodes etc, you're probably allergic too.
Seek medical treatment if you feel it's necessary e.g. a pharmacist can really help get you the right antihistamine and/or cortisone and antibiotic creams etc. If it doesn't get better, you will need to see a doctor. If you have symptoms of Dengue etc, please go to Urgent Care.
Otherwise there isn't much to be done but to live with the situation and to help where you can, because your alertness and being responsible in your civic duty is a link in the chain of intervention! At the very least, you'll have those of us with allergies' everlasting gratitude!
Even if an area has already been marked a red zone, reporting a tiger mosquito bite or sighting counts as a civic duty, so the Agence Regional de Santé knows where action is needed. This website is where you can register a report.
Copyright Ministere des Solidairités de la Santé
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