The Ministerio de Salud (Health Department) paid us a visit yesterday. They were going house to house to check for standing water and to educate people on mosquito control.
The first time they did this was last October which made sense. It was the height of rainy season and the Zika virus was a big topic of conversation and worry. A very nice man walked around the yard, educated me about the dangers of standing water, and explained how he was doing all he could to teach people about controlling mosquitoes which helps prevent the diseases they carry.
My house was numbered #115 (nothing to do with #110 on the post in front, or #90 that has been scratched out. 115 is only for the health department records) He stuck a paper high on our laundry room door. (It’s looking a bit worse for wear after being out in the humidity for months.)
The paper says you are prohibited from destroying or damaging the paper, under threat of a fine.
Yesterday we had another visit from the health department. The lady marched right into the yard, turned over my gardening bucket, dumped out a glass of water we had next to the potted plants, signed the paper, and left. She said she had been out all day working in this hot sun though, and was trying to earn enough money to go to university so I can’t blame her for not wanting to hang around and chat.
It is the height of dry season now and I think I have seen one mosquito in the last two months. My “office” is outside on the terrace so I’m quite aware of what is flying around. Even in the rainiest part of the rainy season, I would see maybe 3-4 in an evening, usually around dusk, and rarely the aedes aegypti, the type that carries zika, dengue, yellow fever, and chikungunya. They are easy to spot because they are larger and have the white bands on their legs (photo below from Wikipedia)
I am very surprised at how few mosquitoes there are here. Everywhere I have lived in the US has had enough mosquitoes that staying outside as dusk approaches is about impossible. I remember visiting the Florida Keys where a truck came around twice a week to spray, but swarms of mosquitoes started attacking as soon as dusk approached. Here, I have never seen mosquito spraying. It is possible that they spray and I have missed it, but I don’t think it has happened in my neighborhood because I spend a lot of time outside and notice who comes and goes.
We do have mosquito born diseases here though. The death rate of people building the canal was very high, and mostly from yellow fever. Today however, it is not a problem unless you go to the Darien and jungles of eastern Panama, where you are not supposed to be anyway. (according to this CDC page here) Malaria is also not considered a problem, except again in the Darien (it is carried by a different mosquito though, the Anopheles mosquito)
But, it is possible to get other diseases. There have been a few cases of Zika in Chiriqui according to the reports, though I don’t know anyone personally who has been affected or who knows of someone affected. Zika is usually a mild illness but it has been reported to cause birth defects, so pregnant women are advised to take all possible precautions.
Dengue is also possible, but again I don’t know anyone affected in this area. A friend in Pedasi got it a couple years ago though, and said there were quite a few cases there at that time. Dengue can make you very sick for quite a while. From what I understand, there are different varieties of dengue and you will be immune to the one you got, but if you get one of the others you maybe be sicker than you were the first time, and even develop dengue hemorrhagic fever which can be deadly.
There is also chikungunya, a very nasty illness. I haven’t heard of anyone in Panama getting it, though I know it is possible. Friends in Nicaragua and Ecuador have had it though, and suffered terribly with joint pain to the point that they needed help taking care of themselves at times, and the pain lasted for many months. Of course no one wants any of these illnesses, but chikungunya seems to have caused the most havoc to those I know who have gotten it.
So, that’s all I know about mosquitoes and mosquito born illnesses in this area. This is the rainy tropics for most of the year so I never expected so few mosquitoes. Maybe a thank you is in order to our lizards, birds, and bats for keeping the population down.