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Why India’s mosquitoes problem is getting worse

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This article was originally dark.

As the sun started to set over Delhi, 45-year-old Rani hiked her Salwar I squatted next to an iron pot just outside her house and lit a match. The first thing that caught fire was a plastic shopping bag. Soon the cow dung cake caught fire, its chocolate brown rims glistening in the dusk. Rani coughed as smoke rose from the frying pan.

Here and there, Rani’s neighbors conducted similar drills. Some used egg trays instead of cow dung, or omitted the plastic bags, but the goal was the same: to repel mosquitoes through smoke and other toxic gases. Indians have long used this do-it-yourself method to get rid of insects, but in the last few years, the city’s mosquito populations have exploded, so in the city’s low-income residential areas, people are forced to kill nightly. Burning is now practiced. 30 million people.

According to recent information Investigation According to a study conducted by South Delhi Municipal Corporation, mosquito densities in Delhi were almost nine times higher than normal this March and April. Previous yearHowever, local authorities did not take proactive action. Because the insect belonged to the genus Culex pipiens, which is not known to transmit well-known diseases such as malaria, dengue and chikungunya, which are at the forefront of public health initiatives in India.

Especially when it comes to malaria, India has been successful in reducing the disease. But while malaria deaths are on the decline, mosquito numbers are soaring, especially in urban areas. This is partly due to climate change, said Ramesh C Dhiman, an expert in malaria epidemiology, who has spent his 30 years as a government researcher. Indian Medical Research Council before becoming an independent consultant.Mosquito populations are on the rise other countriesis also driven not only by climate change, but also by increasing urbanization and debris decay. DDT in the environment.

Delhi Municipal Government spokesperson Amit Kumar said the local government has taken a number of measures to combat the problem, including spraying pesticides in public drains and other water bodies that are breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Told Undark that he was teaching.

These measures were temporary and did not address the seriousness of the problem, said a Delhi public health official, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation from employers.

Mosquitoes in Rani’s neighborhood are so unbearable that children and adults are unable to sleep through the night. Although not yet a major problem in Delhi, residents may face the risk of diseases transmitted by Culex pipiens, such as West Nile fever and Japanese encephalitis. Experts say this risk could increase as mosquitoes evolve in response to changing climatic conditions. For now, low-cost do-it-yourself remedies such as smoke and insecticides offer some relief. It points out that the fundamental problem that made this possible cannot be addressed.


The Culex pipiens surge in Delhi comes at a time when public health officials are declaring a notable victory over other mosquito species, including the malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquito. Mosquito experts say these increases have saved lives, but the situation is complicated. And in a changing climate, mosquitoes have found new niches to exploit, especially in urban areas.

Over the past few decades, the global footprint of malaria has Diminished, thanks in part to interventions such as mosquito nets and insecticides used to target Anopheles mosquitoes.In India, such interventions are being implemented with the help of a government agency called the National Center for Vector-borne Disease Control. reduce Number of deaths from malaria in recent years.

Vas Dev, a former senior government official who worked for the ICMR in northeastern India for almost 30 years, said deforestation likely contributed to the decline in malaria rates in India, but it came at a price. I was. Urbanization increases the habitat of mosquitoes that prefer urban and suburban landscapes, such as Culex pipiens and Aedes, genera of mosquitoes that carry dengue, Zika and chikungunya. Since 1970, dengue fever has spread dramatically in poor countries, killing thousands of people each year, mostly children.

Scientists are working to better understand how changes in landscape and climate will affect mosquito populations in the future. In Delhi, climate change has already extended the breeding season as months that were previously too cold for breeding have become hotter. Premature rains have also increased humidity levels and increased mosquito populations by pooling water in the environment. Dhiman says that it experiences seasons that span six to eight months.

insects are known adapt quickly For changes in the local environment. Karthikeyan Chandrasegaran, a Virginia Tech postdoctoral fellow with expertise in evolutionary ecology and mosquito biology, said the Anopheles mosquito provides an interesting example. Malaria-carrying insects are known to bite from dusk till dawn, so public health agencies operating in sub-Saharan Africa have invested in mosquito nets for local populations. Initially, these interventions proved effective, but less than a decade later, cases skyrocketed. It turned out that the mosquitoes were feeding early in the morning after people got out of bed. Mosquitoes can also evolve resistance to commonly used insecticides.

According to Chandrasegaran, city dwellers are likely to bear the brunt of all problems.Poor waste management, lack of sanitation, and irrigation all create opportunities for insects to thrive. water shortage, a situation that led residents to stockpile scarce supplies in buckets that could become breeding grounds. These situations are less severe in rural areas where there are high numbers of mosquito predators, including certain fish and frogs.

However, rural areas also face challenges, including poor healthcare infrastructure and low awareness of vector-borne diseases. “So solutions have to be tailored for urban areas, and solutions have to be tailored for suburban, rural and forest areas,” he said. “If the problem is not pinpointed, he will waste a lot of time, effort and money trying to implement one scheme across the country.”


Rani, who goes by one name like many Indians, sat with her children on a high cot not far from the iron pot and its constant smoke. They chatted about the day and Meenakshi, one of Rani’s daughters, told how her teacher asked the class to participate in a mindfulness activity. had to keep calm. Unlike her tortuous classmates, Meenakshi excelled at her job. In fact, she told her mother that she fell asleep.

Rani took the news seriously. She explained that she had been unable to sleep the night before because of mosquitoes. Many children skipped school because they were exhausted in the morning. This is a common occurrence that keeps low-income children out of the classroom. Even adults can’t sleep during mosquito season. One woman told Undark that blood pressure rises when mosquitoes are very dense.

Some families leave the pot burning all night, but when Rani is ready to go to bed, she is sprinkled with water so she doesn’t feel choked with smoke as she tries to sleep. and her children, who use mosquito nets, rarely spend all night outside. She says she sometimes has to get up to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. In addition, even small openings in the net allow mosquitoes to enter.

The Culex pipiens surge in Delhi comes as public health officials declare a notable victory over other types of mosquitoes, including the malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquito.

research Mosquito nets have shown that they can reduce disease transmission within the wider community while protecting individual users. It does not mean that you are usingsmall study Studies conducted in homes in Asia and Africa found that netting reduced airflow, and researchers hypothesized that this could explain uneven intake. In homes like the missing Rani’s, the reduced airflow can make sleeping at night even more difficult.

But DIY remedies, which are gaining popularity in various parts of India, bring their own problems.Palak Baliyan, a New Delhi scientist working for a US-based nonprofit Institute of Health Effectssaid that burning any kind of substance produces tiny particles known as PM2.5, is the type of air pollution responsible for millions of premature deaths each year.research suggest PM2.5 emissions are reducing life expectancy in Delhi by up to 10 years.The biggest source of this pollution in Delhi is transportationExperts worry that DIY mosquito control is exacerbating the problem.

In addition to burning cow dung and plastic, Delhi residents use coils, liquids and incense sticks to repel insects with their odors and smoke.The effects of repellents on human health are well documented. not, but the available research suggests caution is warranted.1 study It was found that burning a coil releases the same amount of PM2.5 as burning 75 to 137 cigarettes.another study Heavy metals such as zinc, cadmium and lead are found in popular coil brands. “He has a cancer risk of 350 per million,” said the lead author of the study, his SN Tripathy professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur.

When Lani is ready to go to bed, water the pot so she doesn’t feel choked with smoke while trying to sleep.

Moreover website, the National Center for Vector-borne Disease Control lists the use of these mosquito repellents as one of several strategies for vector control. In India they are part of a 500 crore (over $500 million) business but not a solution. For one, repellents don’t even kill mosquitoes. They simply encourage insects to go elsewhere. Mosquitoes “just move from place to place and don’t die,” officials said.

Delhi public health officials and other experts interviewed by Undark said they were unaware of the extent of open burning in Rani’s neighborhood or beyond. Low-income areas of the city tend to be isolated, overlooked by the city and looked down upon by other Delhi residents.

Some researchers say local governments need to step up mosquito control so that individuals are not burdened. This means better insect monitoring and improved sanitation and drainage systems. For example, Rani’s neighbor’s house doesn’t have indoor plumbing, so sewage runs directly into the street, making it a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The city’s largest sewage pipe, which diverts sewage into the local river, runs about 10 feet from Rani’s one-room home.

Quality of housing is also important. Mosquitoes prefer the dark, damp, unventilated spaces inhabited by India’s poorest, Diman said. Rani’s house has only one window, which is often left open to allow air circulation. Still, the mud floors and cement walls still retain moisture. A small light bulb hangs from a wire in the ceiling to provide minimal lighting.

Outside the house, in the evening, Meenakshi goes to work on his homework. She’s still sitting in her cot, moving her hands while flipping through her books and blowing smoke from the fan. She slaps the mosquito and scratches the bite. Rani considers buying topical repellents, but ointments are expensive and he’s not sure if they’ll work. Perhaps tonight Lani will leave her pot burning to see if it helps her fall asleep.

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