The thing about mosquitoes is that they are so wily.
Mosquitoes rise to unfathomable heights of wiliness with their
crafty attempts to suck your blood and cover your body in enormous,
itchy welts. They find you no matter how secure your mosquito net,
no matter how long your clothing, no matter how high the altitude
to which you climb…. They will find you!
Wait a minute, you don't get a golf ball-sized lump wherever you
are bitten by a mosquito? Your eye does not swell shut if cunning
wee buzzers bite you anywhere on your face? You don't get bitten by
mosquitoes at 8,000 feet above sea level? Or on planes?
- This is an example of my relationship
with mosquitoes. The snapshot was intended to capture my sparkly
teal eyeliner for a Friday Fluff Feature. In the same moment the
photo was taken, a mosquito landed next to my eye and bit me! You
can see it there! Of course, this caused my eye to swell shut
immediately. (Fashion tip: Teal eyeliner does not look as good when
your eye is swollen shut.)
Once upon a time, when I sharing a flat in Mexico City with two
of my female friends, I woke up in the middle of the night because
a mosquito had bitten me on the lip. (Mind you, this was an urban
highrise in which mosquitoes were not expected to invade the
25th floor flats.)
In my sleepy swatting and attempts to figure out what was going
on that had awaken me and was making it difficult for me to move my
lips, my poor bedmate was also forced out of her dreams. Even in
the darkness, she could see that something had gone terribly wrong
with my lower lip (ala, very, very bad collagen implants.) As I
stumbled to the bathroom to try to look at myself in the mirror, I
accidentally woke up my other friend, who noted across the dark
room that my lip was swollen up like a large piece of fruit. "What
is wrong with your mouth?" she called from her bed.
Confronting the swollen disfigurement of my face in the mirror
(Permanent duck face! Except with apricot-sized lips!), I had only
two thoughts: First, I was beyond thankful that my big presentation
at the international AIDS conference had taken place earlier that
day. Speaking at a massive conference with this kind of deformity
would rattle even the smoothest public speaker. Second, I began to
realize that my tongue was swelling too, and that this could
eventually cause bigger problems than the insult to my vanity.
Benadryl to the rescue to keep me breathing! (And some
middle-of-the night calculations about the best way to get myself
an epi-pen at 3am in the Centro Historico of Mexico City, if it
came to that.)
The wily quest of the mosquitoes to feast on my flesh is not a
myth. Mosquitoes really do prefer some people to other people. And
we don't know why! You can read all about the science of why
mosquitoes hate me in Don't Swallow Your
The other thing about mosquitoes is that, in some parts of the
they carry around this terrible little parasite that causes
Because mosquitoes love me with such an undying, passionate love
and because they are wily enough to find uncovered parts of my skin
across dozens of countries and several continents and even on
airplanes, I have to think quite a bit about malaria. (I also
have to think about malaria because I see children die from it, but
I thought, "Why not leave the blog free of stories of dying and
sick children for today?")
When I am in Kenya, I take a medicine every day to protect me
from getting malaria. I use a bednet that really does keep out most
of the marauding mozzies. And in the parts of the country in which
there are swarms of wily, vicious, relentless attackers, I coat
myself in thick DEET repellant. These things work! In my 9 years in
Kenya, I have never gotten malaria. (Because of my tendency to
acquire sicknesses and minor injuries, especially in Kenya, my
closest doctor friends will tell you this is an amazing
Here is the thing to remember on World
Malaria Day 2013 -- we know how to prevent malaria! We know how
to wipe it out. We used to have malaria in the United States. In
Ithaca, New York, for example, (home to my much-loved alma mater of
Cornell University) malaria once plagued the banks of Cayuga's
waters, but we wiped it out with proper sanitation and insecticide
We know how to prevent malaria, and we know how to cure malaria.
As an HIV researcher, I long for the day when I can say the same
things about HIV.
We could make Africa as free of malaria as upstate New York. I
believe we must try to do this. Because 660,000 people still die
every year from malaria and most of them are children under 5.
Africa bears the brunt of this disease; 90% of those 660,000 deaths
were in Africa. 219 million people get sick from malaria every
year, some of them very, very sick. I don't think that is ok when
we know how to prevent and cure a disease.
Yes, I would enjoy a respite from my itchy, deforming welts. But
what we really need is NO MORE CHILDREN DYING from the parasite
inside these wily buzzing pests.
- Bednets. They keep kids alive and
We're working on it. In Africa, malaria deaths have been cut by
one third in the last 10 years. In countries where access to
malaria control interventions has improved most significantly,
overall child mortality rates have fallen by approximately 20%.
Less dying children is good for the entire world. There is no
the future: defeat malaria. And mosquitoes too.