Sunday, September 29, 1996

The Mosquito Coast

I was bitten by three mosquitoes today while watching my son's soccer game. (His team is coached by my wife. They played yesterday and today and won both games. Go Bulldogs!)

Big deal, you say, so you were bitten by mosquitoes, so what. Ah, but I live in Rhode Island and all along the coast we are afraid of mosquitoes this year because mosquitoes have been found that were carrying Eastern Equine Encephalitis. The first ones were found near Westerly, but soon others were found throughout South County. (When EEE-carrying mosquitoes were found across the highway from the main U.R.I. campus, the school began to get phone calls from worried parents across the country.) The chances of getting EEE are really rather remote. It's been three years since somebody had it in Rhode Island. But if you do catch it... there's the rub... because there is no cure and it is fatal in about half the cases... and if you do survive, you have a fifty-fifty chance of permanent damage.

And so people who might normally be tree-huggers are cheering the airplanes that are spraying and wondering why the pickup trucks with the spray equipment in the back aren't driving down their street. Some towns have shifted the start of the school day so that students aren't waiting for school buses in the early morning when mosquitoes are more likely to be about. And public parks are closing at five p.m. so that people are not there at dusk, when mosquitoes are again more likely to be hunting a blood meal. And soccer practices are canceled. And elementary school recess is held inside the buildings. My wife had signed up for a tennis league, but tennis has been canceled. Home games at our high school have become away games because the other teams refuse to come here to play.

So when the youth soccer games are played on Saturdays and Sundays (but not until 9:30 a.m., and the last game must end by 4:30), the players are thoroughly sprayed with insect repellent. (Coaches can bring spray, but can't apply it. They are supposed to give the spray to parents to apply.) There was no problem with mosquitoes at our Saturday game. It was very windy, no mosquitoes around. Today, there was no wind, just light intermittent rain, and lots of mosquitoes. The players were busily running up and down the field, while their parents stood along the sidelines to form a mosquito buffet. Come and get it, nice fresh human blood, yummy! I sprayed my legs (not very bright of me to wear shorts) and my neck. Almost immediately I was bitten on my leg. Swat, splat! Then on the back of my neck. Were these bugs attracted by the repellant? At least I was smart enough to wear a long-sleeved t-shirt. Ouch, there's one drilling right through the fabric.

Home gardeners who normally worry about their tomato plants this time of year are now eagerly awaiting the first killing frost.

A good frost will also end our worries about deer ticks. Why deer ticks? Because they carry Lyme disease... and Rhode Island has some of the highest rates of Lyme disease in New England.

I grew up in the mid-Hudson Valley in New York State, right at the edge of the Catskill Mountains. There were copperhead snakes throughout the woods there. (Copperheads are members of the pit viper family and are poisonous.) We were taught early on to recognize and steer clear of copperheads. My friends and I encountered them many times. That was just something you had to be careful about, just like looking both ways before you crossed the street, etc. So I guess I am not afraid of poisonous snakes, but tiny ticks and mosquitoes have me scared...

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