7th May 2000

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Trap the suckers

If used islandwide, the mosquito menace can be contained effectively
By Wathsala Mendis

Its mouth furtively slips through your flesh. Your blood flows freely into its gut thanks to the clever anticoagulants it makes. You wriggle about with an itching skin as your body tries to eliminate chemicals it injected during the bite. You aim and swat but the whining nightmare escapes your wrath.

The females of many mosquito species have to suck blood (males never do) to reproduce. Blood supplied by an unwilling, unsuspecting 'host' provides protein for the skeeters' eggs. While we eat eggs to get protein, these bloodsuckers just have it backwards. The problem with their eggs is that they HATCH.

Mosquitoes need water to complete their life cycle. Their breeding source is standing water. If there are any things or places such as old tyres, tin cans, bottles, jars, coconut shells, clogged rain gutters, or ornamental ponds around your home where water collects, you may very well be breeding mosquitoes! Not just one but many generations of them right in your backyard.

The eggs could hatch in a day or two or remain un-hatched for weeks until they are covered by water. The 'wigglers' or larvae which feed on micro-organisms and organic matter in water grow quickly and turn into 'tumblers' or pupae. Then the skins of the tumblers open and out climb the most detestable, hungry adult mosquitoes. The process could be faster in warm weather, for the existence and activity of mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases are closely linked to temperature. The warmer, the more bugs.

Generally, a skeeter lays around 300-400 eggs during its lifetime of four to six weeks. Provided at least 200 mosquitoes are produced out of these eggs and each in turn produces 200 more the outcome after just two generations would be 40,000 mosquitoes!

This flying menace can be the transmitter of dreaded encephalitis, malaria, dengue or elephantiasis.

If you're feeling the urgent need to destroy the bug, let off steam. After all, the slap, slap defensive method never really worked. Brush the whiner away before it has its fill, chances are it might come back for more.

Well, the good news is you can now actually help contain the skeeter population in the country in a matter of months. Unconvincing as it sounds, all it takes is a throwaway plastic bottle, a piece of metal such as aluminium, and some water.

You can make the 'mosquito trap' yourself. Just fix the piece of metal securely to the top of the lid so that there are two small openings on either side of it at an angle. Then cut off the top third of the bottle, invert it as a funnel and fasten it to the bottom portion with staples. Fill it with water and you have the cheapest, simplest, most eco-friendly way of monitoring mosquitoes.

Here's how it works. The mosquitoes lay their eggs near the rim. Most eggs hatch into larvae within 48 hours. These tiny 'wigglers' will slide down through the slits into the lower section. The larvae must come to the surface at regular intervals to breathe. With the piece of metal blocking their way, they are unable to move upwards, and die within minutes. As long as there's water in the trap, the process continues.

The idea here is to exhaust all the eggs in a mosquito into these traps by making them easily available. The skeeters will not have to go in search of other potential breeding grounds. These traps will destroy all the larvae generated in them while the parents will die naturally in six weeks at the most. So the multiplication is stopped at the first generation itself. Sweet justice, as one would understandably feel.

This, however, cannot be achieved through individual efforts. "For the scheme to be effective, each household in a selected area should be given three to four traps to be kept inside the house and in a cool area in the garden," explains Sarath Jayakuru, the brains behind this patented invention.

The viability of this approach is that it can be left unattended as long as it takes, except in the case of traps kept inside houses which would have to be refilled occasionally to make up for evaporation. As for those kept outside, they can be allowed to fill with rainwater, having been screened with a mesh.

"If this is to be a permanent solution to the bugging problem, there should be an organized community effort," insists the publicity-shunning inventor who is a mechanical engineer and former Deputy General Manager of the Ceylon Steel Corporation. He hopes that health authorities, municipalities and other welfare organizations will take due notice and carry out this project islandwide.

For starters, it's hassle free, environment-friendly and 100% effective. As itchy as the preliminaries can be, it's time to scratch beneath the surface.

Activefor life

"While doctors have traditionally encouraged physical activity for reducing heart disease," observes Dr.Nancy Huang, Director of Melbourne's Active Script Programme, "there is now compelling evidence that when people increase their level of physical activity they also reduce their risks of getting diabetes, arthritis and fractures as they get older."

The fact is that doctors these days regard inactivity as second only to tobacco smoking as the key preventable risk factor for ill-health. And you don't have to run marathons or swim a hundred laps in a swimming pool every day to reap the benefits of exercising. Just half an hour each day of moderate physical activity has been shown to

* increase your life expectancy

* halve your risk of coronary heart disease

* decrease your risk of diabetes and osteoporosis

* reduce elevated blood pressure

* improve weight control and cholesterol levels.

"Moderate physical activity" simply means activity that increases your heart rate - it does not have to make you pant or become breathless. This includes brisk walking, cycling, swimming, dancing and games like cricket and doubles tennis.

The emphasis these days is on moderate activity - and (instead of pushing yourself to "go for the burn" as an aerobics instructor might suggest) doing something that you enjoy. This means that you are much more likely to continue doing it.

Averaging 30 minutes each day is adequate - and even periods as brief as 10 minutes can be beneficial when they add up to 30 minutes per day. If you feel that you don't have enough time, you can even do a 15 to 20 minute walk during your lunch break and on your way from work - and it will add up. This type of physical activity focuses on health benefits and not on aerobic fitness.

Remember, you only have to exercise regularly - not rigorously- and you will be doing yourself a power of good!

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