San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Unwanted Solution for an Unwanted Problem

LIKE most people on vacation alongthe Caribbean coast, Pollyanna Lind didn’tcatch dengue. She wasn’t even worriedabout it.Instead, the U.S. citizen, who used towork at an organization in favor of pesticidealternatives, was unwillingly sprayedby a chemical meant to kill mosquitoes thattransmit the dengue virus.According to the Ministry of Health,between January and July 10 of this year,1,152 cases of dengue were reported in theCaribbean province of Limón, and a totalof 3,577 in the whole country.To prevent the illness, which causeshigh fever and whose hemorrhagic formcan be fatal if not treated promptly, theMinistry fumigates problem areas.An area is considered a problem,according to Dr. Roger Brown, director ofthe Limón Ministry of Health, after a caseof dengue has been reported. Fumigatorsenter the area and spray both public andprivate property – such as parks, hotels,and restaurants – after giving a heads-up.FOR whatever reason, Lind, who wasstaying at Hotel El Encanto in Cahuita, 45minutes south of the port city of CaribbeanLimón, was not given proper warning. Norwas the hotel.“I feel sorry for the people who livethere,” Lind said. “People have a right toknow what they are being exposed to andwhen they are going to be exposed. If I hadknown ahead of time they would be spraying,I wouldn’t have gone. Simple as that.“We were getting ready to go to dinnerand we heard a noise that sounded kind oflike a boat engine,” says Lind. “It was asound that none of us were familiar with. Wetried to go outside to see what it was, but wecouldn’t see where it was coming from.“My father and husband saw the fogcoming at the house and us, so they ranoutside and started yelling at the fellowwho was doing it to stop, because theyknew we couldn’t get out of there withoutbeing exposed to it.”THE two men were both directlysprayed. Lind’s father was about one footin front of the sprayer.“The guy had no mask, goggles orgloves on, which are required protection,”Lind continued. “He came along the edgeof the cabina and the entire cabina filledwith the fog and we couldn’t see more thana foot or two in front of us. We had to runthrough more of it to get out.”Hotel owners Patricia Kim and PierreTetreault were upset they were not given awarning. They say normally they are told,but not with advance notice.“We could see the smoke from thefumigation. All the fumes went into thehouse and the smoke went in the house andthe guests were there, trapped,” said Kim.“Well, they weren’t exactly trapped,but they were in the house and the fumeswere coming in,” added Tetreault.“And, since those particular guests workin that field (of pesticides) they were doublyconcerned. I mean, they didn’t advise anyone.They just came in here like terroristsand started spraying,” Kim said, as puddlesgrew in her hotel’s garden on a rainy day.THE biggest problem with mosquitoesis stagnant water, where mosquitoes laytheir eggs. Getting rid of standing water –and anything that collects standing water –therefore helps to lower mosquito populations.All mosquito larvae need water fortheir development into mosquitoes, aprocess that can take 4-10 days.In the rainy season, though, getting ridof standing water is not all that easy, so theMinistry of Health resorts to fumigation.After being sprayed, Lind says, “Weimmediately went into town, and we weren’tfeeling very well. We rented another room sowe could all shower and everybody startedto feel better except for my father and I. Wewere shaky and dizzy and exhausted and ourpulse was very depressed.“The following day my mom had astrong headache, and she rarely getsheadaches.”Lind says the next day a sick bird wasfound at the hotel and the owners tried totake care of it, but it died. “It’s hard to sayif it was from pesticides, but I’d say it wasfrom the way it was acting, but there wasn’tan autopsy or anything.”THE chemical the Ministry uses isSolfac UBV 1.5, chosen by a group of countriesthat still spray to control mosquitoes.The chemical, produced by the Germancompany Bayer, can also cause nausea,hypersensitivity to touch and sound, burningsensations on the face and hands and itcan irritate eyes, nose and throat.However, Dr. Brown says the chemicalis not dangerous and people in areas beingfumigated don’t need to worry.“Well, it might bother your eyes a littlebit,” he said.The chemical is also toxic to bees andfish.ACCORDING to the Journal ofPesticide Reform, “since mosquito populationsare more concentrated as larvae, andsince most larvacides are more specific tothe mosquito than broad-spectrum adulticides,directing control efforts against thelarvae is often more fruitful and less ecologicallyharmful.” Solfac is an adulticide,meaning it kills adult mosquitoes.The journal also says mosquitoes areattracted to dark clothing, carbon dioxideand sweat. People with warm and dampskin are more likely to be bitten than thosewith dry skin. Mosquito repellents shouldbe applied to clothing instead of skin.Lind says the best way to protect yourselfis through common sense measures:put screens on your windows, get rid ofstanding water or anything that could catchwater, wear long pants and long-sleevedshirts at “biting time” (dusk and earlyevening) and support an ecosystem of animalsthat eat mosquitoes (birds, amphibians,fish and other insects).Some overlooked breeding placesinclude baby pools, birdbaths, clogged roofgutters and leaky outdoor faucets.

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