Urban Planning Vector borne diseases

Empires have fallen to its wing beats

You may feel that one of the main objectives of this column is to scare AMC into taking mosquito-borne diseases seriously, but it is not working all that well!

With zika virus failing to do the job, I am forced to introduce chandipura virus that I have been holding back, mainly out of the nightmarish possibilities it presents.

Chandipura is not a stranger to our state. It appears time and again causing mortality at a rate of nearly 70 % (infamous ebola is mere 50 %). This should not be surprising as chandipura is a close relative of 100 % fatal rabies virus. Linked with encephalitis, in the last epidemic (2004) in Gujarat, it killed 18, mostly children, out of 26 infected.

This disease, with its intimidating destructive power, has not been in limelight till now because it has been riding the sand-flies, bloodsucking insects common to rural set-up. Active mostly in tribal belt, it has avoided headlines. But same may not be true for long, as we now know that the virus also rides our dear friend aedes aegypti, the trusted mosquito used by dengue, chikungunya, zika and many more. It is entirely possible that, with aedes aegypti proliferating, we can have an open season of viral encephalitis in our densely populated cities too.

Unfortunately, chandipura is not the end of the story. With the planet heating up, insect populations are on the rise across the globe. Insects like mosquitoes are agents of doom as they allow virus to move between species. So, even if we manage to thwart infections we know through medicines, new viruses will keep getting added to the list, making it an eternal struggle we can’t hope to escape. The only way to mitigate this massive problem is to keep insect vectors at bay.

This makes fighting mosquitoes, unarguably the biggest agenda our administration needs to have, especially because of our geographical location.

Through this column, I have repeatedly tried highlighting the mosquito problem, but I now see the need to move beyond stating the problem and get categorical about steps that must be taken by the administration.

We must continue with mosquito-destruction drive all round the year, as mosquitoes are not flying in from outside. They are here, right now; so killing one mosquito in lean season will result in a thousand less during peak season.

We must develop scientific understanding and upgrade our knowledge constantly. From drives like “dry day” proposed by AMC to fight aedes aegypti,it appears as if we have not studied mosquito-lifecycle properly. As aedes aegypti doesn’t lay eggs in water but sticks them to the side of the container, so emptying of the containers and celebration of a “dry day” a meaningless act.

Water is the key to mosquito problem; hence administration must look at all water-retaining structures with a critical eye. Building bylaws must discourage use of water for beautification as this beauty is, may be, coming at an unaffordable cost.

When a seasonal river is turned into a permanent reservoir, it is a massive ecological intervention. River-front development requires in-depth environmental impact study to evaluate its impact on local ecology, especially on insect-life.

The concept of water-body preservation has been erroneously equated with environmental conservation not only by the administration but also by courts. This assumption requires scientific validation as such water-bodies serve no real environmental purpose other than aiding insect populations.

Let us not forget that mosquito is the biggest threat faced by humanity since ages. Empires have fallen to its wing-beats. Let us not make the error of underestimating its power else we may end up paying a huge price.

DNA 31/1/16

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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