I didn't buy any souvenirs on my recent trip to the Yucatán. Mostly what they sell visitors to Mérida are hammocks and Guayabera shirts. I took something else home instead-- Dengue fever, an infectious tropical disease transmitted by mosquitoes. It's different from the deadly dengue hemorrhagic fever, which I don't have. The one I have takes a week or two and you're better... or so my doctor says.
I'd like to say I got it traipsing around the jungle investigating the connections between Mormon polygamists and the worship of the Mayan and Aztec feathered serpent deity Quetzalcoatl. The Mormons, who were led to Mexico as a way of preserving their polygamist lifestyle 125 years ago by Mitt Romney's great grandfather, notorious polygamist Miles Park Romney, believe that Jesus Christ came to America after he was resurrected and was remembered by the Mexican Indians as Quetzalcoatl. The second president of the Mormon church, John Taylor, who sent the Romney family down to Mexico wrote, "The story of the life of the Mexican divinity Quetzalcoatl closely resembles that of the Savior; so closely, indeed, that we can come to no other conclusion than that Quetzalcoatl and Christ are the same being." But that isn't how I contracted Dengue fever.
I met plenty of Mormons and plenty of Mayan Indians who the Mormons are trying to convert-- there's a Mormon temple next to all the big intercity bus terminals so that missionaries can prey on the illiterate peasants arriving in the cities for the first time. But the mosquito that got me came from a broken fountain in the beautiful house we rented in downtown Mérida.
When Romney’s father was five years old, the Mexican Revolution broke out and his parents moved back to the United States to avoid the violence. Mitt Romney was eventually born in Michigan. But the other branch of the family-- leading down to Romney's cousins Leighton, Mike and Meredith-- stayed behind in Mexico, their numbers growing. The Romneys chose to remain in Mexico because they established good lives for themselves and their families there. Most of them are now dual-citizens.
“We certainly have a love for both countries,” adds Leighton. “I can sing both national anthems and tear up at both of them. I think that having two countries that you love and two countries that you can serve or be a beneficiary of their service is a great thing.”
The Romneys living in Mexico are well aware of their wealthy and famous relative’s popularity in the Republican primary race. They support their cousin's candidacy and they hope that Mitt will be more open about the issue of his religion and Mexican heritage during the campaign. It’s a family history they’re proud of, despite the fact that Mitt Romney has never come to visit.
Dengue fever is becoming quite the problem for tourists in tropical countries lately. Popular tourist destinations like Cambodia, Polynesia, Bali and India have had problems recently.
The mosquito menace which has even led to a few deaths has spread its net of fear amongst the monks and tourist visiting Bodhgaya, the important Buddhist pilgrim destination in the state of Bihar.
Bodhgaya is famous for the Mahabodhi Temple and the Bodhi tree in its courtyard under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. The Mahabodhi Temple is a World Heritage Site and attracts a large number of Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world.
However the past three months has seen the mosquito menace increase from bad to worse and has resulted in the spread of encephalitis, dengue fever and malaria, which has resulted in quite a number of deaths that have occurred over this period.
As such most devotees, monks and even tourist who come to visit Bodhgaya are virtually caged inside portable mosquito nets even during the day, even blocking their free movement. This has caused a real panic among the visitors who are in constant fear of being bitten by mosquitoes.
"Mosquitoes killed even Alexander the Great, and hence we too are quite frightened," said Madelina Illibery, a tourist from Italy. "I was told encephalitis and malaria together [caused by mosquito bites have claimed many lives in the Gaya district alone in the past few weeks…and hence I too have brought a foldable mosquito net for I can't afford to get exposed to those deadly mosquitoes," she added.
Many of the foreign countries have advised on the need of a mosquito net in their travel advisories. This is so because of the current tourist season which attracts a lot of visitors and also to enjoy a hassle free journey in good health.
My case seems pretty mind... at least so far. Not so for this Australian tourist, Trevor Proudlove, who picked it up in Bali.
He said he knew something was wrong when, after returning home from a 10-day holiday in October, he broke out in a bad rash and was so unwell he was unable to drive.
But Mr Proudlove said it was not until he developed pain in his joints and muscles about a month later that he was diagnosed with the disease, which doctors told him he was genetically susceptible to.
He said he would not travel to Bali again because of the distress it had caused him and his family, despite their efforts to stay safe.
"I couldn't even lift my arm to comb my hair and trying to get on and off chairs caused excruciating pain," he said. "It was like somebody was tearing my muscles out of my legs every time I would get up.
"My feet swelled up to twice the size they normally are, my hands swelled up, too. I couldn't bend my wrists because my joints were so sore. It was horrific."
It's far worse than dealing with proselytizing Mormons. And, yes, you can get it here in the U.S. as well, especially in Florida and Texas.
"We know now that Key West is a high-risk area for dengue and we could have ongoing dengue outbreaks again," said the report's lead author, Carina Blackmore, from the Florida Department of Health. However, if people use air conditioners and screens and stay inside during hot, muggy days there is little chance dengue will become endemic, she said.
Dengue remains a leading cause of illness and death in tropical areas but was largely thought to be absent from the United States since the 1950s.
However, in 2009, 27 people living in Key West came down with illness via locally acquired infections, and then 66 more residents contracted the illness in 2010, the researchers report. The outbreak seems to have eased since then, with no cases reported in 2011.
...Because Key West has a large population of the type of mosquitoes that transmit dengue, called the "house mosquito," Blackmore's team decided to investigate the size of the outbreak there. They identified a number of cases and found that people who got dengue were less likely to use air conditioning, and they often had birdbaths or other types of containers where the mosquitoes could breed.
Blackmore noted that dengue is not transmitted person to person, but from humans to mosquitoes and then back to humans again. However, trying to eradicate house mosquitoes has never been successful, she said, because of where they tend to propagate. "House mosquitoes are lazy mosquitoes-- they breed in [even] very small containers," she said.
UPDATE: How Old Is That Mosquito?
Interesting story on Dengue Fever mosquito research on NPR.
There's a nasty disease called dengue that is just beginning to show up in the United States. It's caused by a virus, and it's transmitted from person to person by a mosquito. A mild case of dengue is no worse than flu. A serious case can mean death.
Michael Riehle at the University of Arizona is trying to solve a curious puzzle about dengue: why there have been dozens of cases in nearby Texas and none, or virtually none, in Arizona. Riehle thinks the answer has to do with Arizona's geography.
"It's right on the edge of the range where these dengue mosquitoes are found," he says. "It's a fairly harsh environment, and we think that they might not be surviving long enough to efficiently transfer the disease to other people."