Waking up this morning to the news that a plague of mosquitos carrying deadly diseases is headed for Britain fills me with dread.
The mosquito Aedes aegytpi sends shivers down my spine but to read that its warrior cousin, Aedes albopictus, is on its way makes me wonder whether I should not get on a plane and head to the North Pole! Humans are yet to win the battle with these vectors.
I am very scared of the Ae albopictus because it is like the IS of terrorism. I know how to find and route the Ae aegypti but with the Ae albopictus, it's serious guerilla warfare. A senior entomologist and public health official once told me that when they arrive in a country, it is impossible to eradicate them. Even Ae aegypti is scared of them and for good reason.
I first met Ae aegypti up close and personal when I was about 12 years old. A mosquito bit me and transmitted dengue fever which it also known as break-bone fever.
It started with a slight fever, and general aches and pains. But the pain got worse, especially in the joints and behind my eyes. It felt like someone ripping out my eyeballs with a wrench. My whole body was in excruciating pain for two straight weeks.
I did not know whether to stand, sit, lay down, stand on my head or roll over. It was consistent pain as the virus coursed through my body every single second of the day. Every second felt like a lifetime. I just wanted it to be over.
There is no cure or vaccine. Paracetamol was ineffective. Panadol was useless and aspirin was definitely not a good idea.
When I finally recovered, I received the good news that I was now immune to the virus.
The bad news, however, was that there were four strains of the virus and I was still vulnerable to the other three strains. With multiple infections come the risk of severe dengue (dengue hemorrhagic fever) which causes internal bleeding and can be fatal, if not treated.
Ae aegypti is a domestic mosquito because it lives in and around the home usually in clean water and comes awake only at certain times of the day. It is relatively easy to find and eradicate. I once found the larvae in the cover of a soft drink bottle, which had collected rain water. The eggs can survive outdoors for a pretty long time but just add water and they hatch in 24 hours.
So, I am not too scared of Ae aegypti but its cousin terrifies me. The Ae albopictus is not domestic. It lives in the wild and very difficult to pinpoint its habitat.
Unlike its cousin which transmits four strains of the dengue fever virus, the albopictus, under laboratory conditions, can transmit 22 different diseases including yellow fever, encephalitis and the feared chikungunya.
Chikungunya is significantly worse than dengue fever. Joint pains can last up to two years. Two of my friends just died from an infection of dengue fever and chikungunya. The second, who died just before Christmas, was kept sedated in the intensive care unit, due to the excruciating pain.
Ae albopictus respects no creature. Even its cousins, Ae aegypti run scared because wherever they battle, the albopictus usually wins.
The news by The Telegraph this morning that the Culex mosquito could arrive with yellow fever is of lesser concern to me because Culex has only been a nuisance mosquito to me. It operates during daylight hours and not when I am asleep.
I am a magnet for mosquitoes. If I am sitting with a group of friends when these insects arrive, they make a beeline for me. It's the scent of my skin, doctors tell me, that attract them, so I try my best to mask the scent and I tend to avoid dengue-infected regions.
I should have gone home to Barbados last Christmas for my annual holiday but Chikungunya was on the rampage and I was taking no risk.
But now, the insects are set to arrive right on my doorstep here in the UK, looking for me, perhaps it's time to head further north to colder climes.