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For months we have been hearing about Zika, a virus carried by the Aedes mosquito that is spreading rapidly. Also carried by this genus of mosquito is dengue, a virus that unfortunately, the Indo crew are a little too familiar with. We hope that by sharing our experiences we can help raise awareness about Zika and dengue―no longer limited to equatorial countries but on the rise globally. We also have some tips so that you can stay safe and avoid the unfortunate affects of being bit by the Aedes mosquito.
Things to know about Zika
As you might already know, the Indo crew are split between two offices―San Francisco, CA and Bali, Indonesia. In the United States, Zika has been all over the news as researchers learn more about the virus and how it spreads.
Aside from the fact that it can be passed from pregnant women to their babies (causing brain damage in many cases), another alarming discovery is that Zika can be spread through casual contact and not just from mosquito bites or sexual transmission.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Zika symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, muscle pain, and headaches. People rarely die from Zika, but the case in Utah has stumped scientists. Since 2015, more than 50 countries have experienced a Zika outbreak. The disease has infected almost 20,000 Americans and continues to spread.
Things to know about dengue
In Bali, it is dengue that dominates the news. According to the World Health Organization, the global incidence of dengue has grown dramatically in recent decades and about half of the world's population is now at risk. In the past, malaria used to be what people feared when planning vacations to the tropics. "Should I get a Malaria shot?" we had many a friend ask us prior to visiting Indonesia. But these days it is all about dengue.
You would be hard pressed to find a person in Indonesia who does not know someone who has had dengue fever. 100% of our crew personally know someone who has suffered through dengue fever, not to mention a number of us have experienced dengue fever firsthand.
Symptoms of dengue fever are similar to Zika―headaches, rashes, severe joint pain. In serious cases it can cause vomiting, internal bleeding, shock, and organ failure, which is why in Indonesia dengue fever is known as demam berdarah or “bloody fever”. About 2.5% of those affected by dengue globally die. There is no vaccine to control the disease; the main control measure to date has been reducing mosquitos by fogging/ large-scale spraying of insecticides (not very eco-friendly).
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Our experiences with dengue
"I had dengue fever once. It was painful, with my whole body aching (including stomach ache). I was drained for a good 10 days, which made me feel really depressed. The residual energy drain lasted for about three weeks after. There were about 80 cases in the village the year I had it, so I don't know if there was much I could have done to avoid it. To recover I needed rest, and lots of fluids." ~Kai
"I got dengue once, right before I was headed back to Germany. It didn’t start with fever for me, like it usually does. That's why at the beginning the doctor thought I had an ear infection and wanted to give me antibiotics. I’m glad I didn’t take them, as it would have weakened me even more. For me, the worst parts were the headaches and body aches. I never experienced anything like that. I think it was the worst I have ever felt. I was weak for quite a while but not depressed – it didn’t change my moods. Eight weeks later, I still don't have my full strength back. I need longer to recover after working out or drinking, and now my hair has started falling out. I didn’t relate that to the dengue at first, but then I found a study where 20% of dengue patients experienced hair loss 6-8 weeks later. In those cases it took up to 6 months for the body to recover. I wouldn’t have thought that this would haunt me for so long." ~Lenya
Fighting the Aedes mosquito
In response to the Zika outbreak, the Wellcome Trust and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (together with the Brazilian, UK and US governments) funded an ambitious plan to infect the Aedes aegypti mosquito with Wolbachia bacteria, which stops mosquitos from transmitting the virus. Researchers at Monash University had been working on this for the past decade to eliminate dengue, but now the focus is on Zika. If successful, it would provide protection against a host of viruses. For now, it is too soon to know if this will be the answer to the Zika and dengue epidemics.
In Canada, a device has been developed to destroy the larvae of the Aedes mosquito. These mosquitos lay eggs on shallow surfaces of water in containers like old bottles, cans or *drumroll*... tires. Almost 30 percent of Aedes mosquitos breed in car tires filled with water. This is yet another reason the world needs to seriously deal with the problem of tire waste. The device, called the ovillanta, is made from old tires. It eliminates the need to use pesticides, is relatively inexpensive to make, and we love the creative thinking behind it. “We are turning a weapon that mosquitoes use against us – old tires – against them,” said Dr. Gerardo Ulibarri to the BBC. The device has been tested in Mexico and Guatemala, where over 18,000 Aedes mosquito eggs were collected and destroyed and no new cases of dengue were reported during a 10-month time frame. You can learn how to make your own ovillanta here.
Tips from the Indo crew
While steps are being taken to address the situation, those in warm climates should make protecting themselves from mosquito bites the utmost priority. Take it from us, prevention is key because you really don't want to experience this.
Always use mosquito repellant―recommended active ingredients include DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Burn a coil or use a vaporizer. Bed nets are not particularly useful because the Aedes mosquito bites during the day, but you can wear long sleeves and trousers. If you start to hear of people coming down with dengue or Zika in your area, be extra vigilant. Remember that Zika can be spread through physical contact.
Do not let water collect in containers/ sit stagnant, and support the repurposing movement so that less tires become breeding grounds for mosquitos. According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, more than a billion tires are discarded each year worldwide.
If you do come down with dengue, we advise seeking medical attention, getting lots of rest and fluids, and avoiding coconut water (a doctor warned Lenya against drinking coconut water because it lowers blood pressure, which is already too low during dengue).
Hopefully a drug or vaccine will become available soon, but in the meantime protect yourself and your loved ones, stay informed, and support our mission of repurposing one million tires! A healthy planet is one without waste tires lying around, and you too can be part of the fight against mosquito-borne viruses.