The Price of Paradise

9 Aug

You know you live in a tropical paradise when your three year old names one of her dolls after the currently popular virus “Chikungunya.” Not that there weren’t already plenty of other glamorous signs that indeed, we dwell in the land of eternal summer, aka the land of tropical disease and pests. There are signs like the ever-present layer of sweat and grit no matter how many seconds ago you bathed. There are sudden plagues of ants invading your house on a regular basis. There are giant flying cockroaches (which luckily don’t tend to invade my house). There’s knowing that you always, always need to check your shoes for scorpions before you put them on. There’s the ease with which fungus grows in your house and on your body. Pretty much nothing but glamor around here.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by my daughter’s ability to pronounce Chikungunya, since everyone is talking about it these days. Maybe she doesn’t know what it means, and I hope with all my parental fervor that she doesn’t have to learn through experience what it means. But somewhere she picked it up and it caught her attention enough to want to go around saying it herself. It does sound pretty funny, even if the reality of it is anything but.

Chikungunya is just the latest exciting tropical virus I’ve learned about. I learned about dengue before I visited Paraguay back in 2006. Dengue is very similar; they’re both mosquite-borne illnesses that cause sudden fevers and some flu-like symptoms, including joint pain. Dengue can occasionally turn deadly, especially with repeat infections, or among children. I’ve known people who have had dengue, but thus far I haven’t been around for a serious local outbreak, so I haven’t worried too much about it.

Chikungunya was named in Tanzania, and according to the World Health Organization,  “The name ‘chikungunya’ derives from a word in the Kimakonde language, meaning ‘to become contorted’, and describes the stooped appearance of sufferers with joint pain (arthralgia).”1 The joint pain can be severe, and last for months for some people. On the positive side, it doesn’t usually lead to death. On the negative side, there’s a huge outbreak happening right here in my town! Some of Conan’s family members have had it already. Everyone knows someone who’s had it already, and rainy season is still going (albeit without much rain lately), so they’re predicting lots more cases before it gets better. (Fun fact: During rainy season pharmacies don’t sell drugs like ibuprofen- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents- without a prescription because of the risk of hemorrhaging if you take it when you have dengue. Imagine ibuprofen being like a black market drug for 6 months of the year! Only in paradise.)

Personally, I have some sort of natural repellant in my sweat glands or something (See! I was meant to live in eternal summer!) and I almost never get stung. My partner and daughter, on the other hand, attract those beasts like revulsion in a port-a-potty. It’s just inevitable. So we’re dousing the kids and Conan in mosquito repellant (no, not the natural kind; that doesn’t work down here) and crossing our fingers all the time. I am grateful that these days we live in a house with screens on the windows. The possibility of this, and other new-to-me diseases is just part of the trade-off for living down here. But mosquitos aren’t the only ones causing havoc down here.

Another interesting disease I’ve learned about since moving here is called Chagas. It’s transmitted through some weird parasite that lives in bugs called “kissing bugs” in English, chinches in Spanish. But get this: (do not read while eating) it’s actually spread through their poop. These little bastards bite you, then poop nearby on your skin, and when you go to scratch your itch you rub the poop into your open wound, thereby infecting yourself. Gross, right? Then you may or may not have symptoms and then 20 or 30 years later your heart may suddenly explode if you didn’t know you had it and never got treated. Fun and excitement in paradise!

No matter where you live, there’s something dangerous, something uncomfortable. I come from the land of violent thunder storms, tornadoes, ice storms and the like. That kind of stuff sounds terrifying to folks down here! I’m willing to pay the price for never being cold and having sunshine most days of the year.

And here’s another upside to it all: Conan and I just marked our 3 year anniversary of moving down here. For me, that also means in a couple more years I could gain a little more immunity to some strands of E.coli! That infection they call “traveler’s diarrhea,” according to NPR 2, will become less painful and less common for me as I continue to live here in the coming years. Woo hoo! Cheers to my tropical paradise, and cross your fingers that Lucia’s doll is the only one with Chikungunya! Just another day in paradise…..

Here’s the link to the NPR article-

And here’s more information about Chikungunya-

Here’s a picture of chinches, which transmit Chagas.

The image is from this website:      (I think chinches are related to bed bugs. Ewww.)Una campaña para eliminar  el chinche transmisor del mal de Chagas se lleva a cabo en Jinotega. LA PRENSA/F. RIVERA

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