Wednesday, August 23, 2000

Don't bug me

The big health news this summer, here in the New York metropolitan area, is mosquitos. And not just any mosquitos: mosquitos who are carrying the West Nile virus, that staple of nightly newscasts and inspirer of public panic. The virus is transported from infected crows to humans by those little needle-nose nuisances, and can cause encephalitis. Or not. Though seven people died after being infected last year and 62 more were sickened, most of those bitten will just experience a bad case of the blahs (and just how would I distinguish these from my normal everyday blahs?). It's a serious health hazard for the elderly, the weak, and the immune-system-impaired. For everybody else, the itching is probably worse.

Yet of course, since there's no news like scary news, all we hear and read is DEADLY VIRUS and PUBLIC HEALTH RISK and MUST SPRAY POISON! That poison would be malathion, which is something of a public health risk all by itself. Still, we can't be having no virus-carrying mosquitos flying around, so some counties are choosing airborne chemicals as a lesser evil. At the very least, residents are being advised to take major precautions: No standing water in your yard! No going outside without your own personal chemicals liberally applied! No going outside with any skin exposed, even if it's chemical-coated! No going outside in the evening at all!

Now, personally, I'm more afraid of a Lyme-disease-filled deer tick than a West Nile-virus-bearing mosquito, though I'll be happy to steer clear of both. And that's where I'm finding some small compensation in this whole thing. I've never much liked the outdoors. I've entered it grudgingly. When my children insist on playing outside, I stall them as long as I can. Can't let them go out by themselves, of course--between their developmental delays and judgment problems and the predatory strangers one hears about on nightly newcasts when there's no mosquito news, I watch those kiddos like a hawk. But I can whine and complain and delay and cut their outings short for arbitrary reasons. And I do.

Previously, this has made me a bad mom who for her own selfish reasons will not allow her children to frolic in the great and health-filled outdoors. Now, though, I'm a good and alert mom who is keeping her children safe from danger. Really, if you subtract the hours of the day you're advised not to let children outside because they could get sunburned, and then subtract the hours of the day you're advised not to let children outside because of mosquitos, there's only about five minutes in the early morning and five minutes in the late afternoon that are safe. By the time you slather on the sunscreen and bug repellant, that five minutes is gone. Can't put out a little backyard swimming pool, because mosquitos will lay eggs in it. Can't go hiking, because there are deer ticks out there. Can't leave toys in the yard, because the insecticide sprays will collect on them. Can't go outside when it's hot, because the clothes you have to wear to block out the sun and the bugs will give you heat stroke. Why not just stay inside, in the air-conditioned house?

And if that makes you just feel blah--well, see? You've already been infected!

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