Nov. 30, 2011, 10:17 a.m.
“They are flying all over my house, up on the ceiling and on the walls,” said Thanyathip Netichaiseth, 48, who lives in a three-story townhouse with two children that has been partly under water the past two weeks.
“When I look up the ceiling, I’m shocked, my ceiling is turning black from all the mosquitoes,” she said. “When they bite you, it really hurts and itches. Later on, the bites become red and get bigger and infected.”
Although waters are slowly draining away after Thailand’s worst flooding in decades–which left more than 600 people dead — many areas around Bangkok are still flooded. It could be weeks before all the affected homes and businesses are dry.
But even the areas that are drying out aren’t out of trouble yet, in part because of the plagues of insects that tend to follow flooding, as plenty of warm, standing pools of water perfect for insect breeding have been left behind.
Insect infestations are very serious because of the potential spread of dengue and other diseases. Thailand is one of the more-developed countries in the region, yet it has often reported the largest number of dengue cases among Southeast Asian nations in recent years, with major epidemics in 1987, 1998 and 2001, each with more than 125,000 cases. Although treatable, dengue is a dangerous and uncomfortable disease that does sometimes result in death, and it’s especially hard on children.
Pornthep Sirivanarangsan, the director general of the Disease Control Department of Thailand’s Public Health Ministry, said the mosquitoes seen so far weren’t the type to cause dengue, and that no major outbreaks had been reported in flood areas.
“Mosquitoes that attack people at this moment are kind of annoying,” but they don’t bring dengue fever, he said. But he said the department would continue monitoring the situation and would send mobile units with bug spray and chemicals to kill larvae if any outbreaks emerged.
Relief organizations including Unicef have handed out thousands of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, and Thai authorities are in some cases making insecticide available. Health experts are advising residents to sleep under mosquito nets and use insect repellent during the day, since dengue is typically spread by mosquitoes that are active in daytime.
But considering all the areas left with water puddles, it’s no surprise residents are having trouble getting a handle on the problem.
Wannakorn Kaochartchai, a 43-year-old vendor of flowers and jasmine garlands in a Bangkok-area fresh market, says she’s glad to be back at work after her market flooded for two weeks. But now she and her friends have to suffer daily attacks from the mosquito swarms – and nothing seems to be able to stop them.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life,” she said of the mosquitoes she finds each day when she arrives at 4 a.m. She said she lights mosquito coils when leaving at night and leaves them there, and then lights more of them in the morning, to no avail. She also uses mosquito spray and a fan to help blow them away – but they keep coming back.
“Their size is bigger than usual and they’re not afraid of humans – they just attack us right away and sometimes bite through my pants, and it hurts,” she said. “I have mosquitoes in my house, too, but what can I do? I don’t know what to do because I try to kill them so I don’t catch dengue – but they’re never gone.”
Ms. Thanyathip, the 48-year-old mother of two whose townhouse was invaded by mosquitoes in recent days, says she’s tried four bottles of bug spray, but the insects keep coming back, tougher than ever.
“It seems like mosquitoes breed very fast,” she said. “I sprayed on the ground floor, closed the room and then moved up to the third floor, waited for an hour, and then went back to have a look. The mosquitoes were lying down on the floor and it looked scary, like thousands of dead mosquitoes.”
“I thought I had gotten rid of them – but lots of mosquitoes appeared again the next morning.”
Ms. Thanyathip said she is particularly worried because her children are both under 5 years old, and she fears they could get sick. She’s keeping them on the third floor while also trying to pour chemical retardants in a drain nearby that she got from district administrators in her neighborhood.
That helped some, she said, but sooner or later, more mosquitoes appear looking for blood.