Cuba and Texas: A Tale of Two Mosquitoes

Graham Sowa

Tire quarters are used to capture mosquito larve in cuba. Pretty economical solution!

HAVANA TIMES — I was once asked “What is the most deadly animal in Africa”? My thoughts turned to big cats, maybe the hippo? Or the crocodile?

I don’t think I had time to decide before the person who asked me saved me the embarrassment of a certain wrong answer and said “the mosquito”.

At the present time I think the same answer could be given if the question was directed at North Texas or Cuba.

In Texas I just spent the summer being barraged by local news of West Nile Virus. West Nile Virus would have remained unknown to exist by most westerners had it not shown up, thanks to human mobility no doubt, at the turn of the millennium.

Since 1999 “West Nile”, as it is known to those of us who gossip of it daily, has been exploding onto the epidemiological scene.

This summer has been especially difficult, with 11 dead, of last count, in the City of Dallas. There have been several other deaths over the North Texas region.

News struck home when I received a Facebook notification that a former teacher was suspected of having the disease as he lay in the intensive care unit of the hospital.

But as I leave Texas to return to Cuba I am no longer thinking of West Nile. I am thinking of dengue.

Cuba deals with its own daemon vectors. In the Caribbean the Aedes genus mosquito is responsible to passing along dengue fever. West Nile is spread by the Culex genus.

Dengue fever did not recently exist in Cuba, or so I have been informed. The disease was claimed to be eradicated by the advancements in preventative medicine by the Revolution.

The new arrival of dengue (which killed at least 2 Cubans at the hospital I will be working) was probably brought about by Cuban doctors on medical missions or students who travel between their home countries and Cuba, such as myself. This explains one of the reasons behind the quarantine I should do when I get back to Cuba.

In the United States the solution is not quarantine of people moving about, but spraying pesticides to kill the buggers.

Cuba sprays too. We are frequently awaken by shouts of “FUMIGATION! FUMIGATION!” as health workers walk through the dormitories with loud machines resembling small jet engines in their whine and shape as they flood everything in their path with a chemical fog that is supposed to kill mosquitoes. I don’t know if it works, but I can say I am certain it does not kill all of the pests.

In North Texas the debate about fumigation has become a political topic. The State of Texas has airplanes to spray large swaths of land with a poison that is said to be safe enough for us, but deadly for insects. Some local cities such as Dallas and Highland Park have voted, after much public input, to do aerial spraying.

Other cities have decided they do not want to take this preventative approach. I am sure they will change their mind if the incidence of the disease increases. Americans like to pretend to be scared of pesticides and chemicals, but we always end up welcoming them if they make our lives even the littlest more convenient.

However I believe it would take an event on the scale of the Hollywood movie Contagion to get the same cities to subscribe to quarantine of foreign students as Cuba does. Public education are common themes in both Texas and Cuba for preventing the spread of mosquito vector borne disease.

Cuba has been trying to control mosquitoes for a long time, and usually keep dengue from killing anyone. Just one death is viewed by the country as a preventable tragedy. Perhaps North Texas and Cuba, in light of their similar problem, could benefit from more health cooperation. I would like for there to be the political will to do just that.


Graham

Graham Sowa: I've been living in Cuba for three years now. I would like to blame my obvious hair loss seen in this updated photo on the rigors of life here and medical school, but it is probably just genetic. I've made some of the strongest friendships during my time in Cuba from other writers on this website. The strength of those friendships has almost restored my faith that the online world can lead to offline and real life change. On that same note I've adjusted to using internet one or two hours a month. In the meantime I have rediscovered things like flipping through the pages of books, writing stuff down by hand, and having to admit that I don't know something instead of rapidly looking up the answer on Google while the teacher isn't looking.

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