UAE residents being 'eaten alive' by surge in mosquitoes

Stagnant water pools formed by recent rains provide perfect breeding grounds for flying pests

Captured mosquitoes at the Mercer County Mosquito Control Center in Trenton New Jersey.  through a microscope
Photo by Michael Falco

UAE residents say they are being "eaten alive" by mosquitoes due to a surge in the numbers blamed on January's prolonged long wet spell.

Communities across the country, from Jumeirah in Dubai to Raha Beach in Abu Dhabi, are reporting bites – often accompanied by significant swelling.

Pest-control experts say the mosquitoes are breeding in large pools of standing water which formed after heavy rains earlier this month.

Stagnant water left by the rains create ideal conditions for adult females to lay their eggs.

She has two massive bites on her face. My son Rohan, who is five, has been bitten twice and both times the doctor prescribed antibiotics

An adult female lays 100-400 eggs at a time, which hatch within two to three days.

Mother-of-four Chandni Rogers-Goonewardena, who lives in Al Zeina in Raha Beach, Abu Dhabi, said her eight-month-old baby Sophie is being “eaten alive” by mosquitoes.

“She has two massive bites on her face. My son Rohan, who is five, has been bitten twice, and both times the doctor prescribed antibiotics,” she said.

Her son Harry, three, has also been bitten on his leg and face, which resulted in bad swelling.

“I don’t have my door open at all so I don’t know how they are getting in. I have no idea how to keep the mosquitoes at bay.”

Nearby Raha Gardens also has a significant issue with mosquitoes, according to residents.

“Everyone here has these water features and most of them don’t work, so the water doesn’t circulate,” said Anna Quirk.

“Over the road from Raha Gardens, between gate seven on the back road to gate 13, there is a huge lake.

Mosquito traps that were used to collect the creatures at Al Qudra Lakes, Dubai by Dr Jeremy Camp. Photo by Jeremy V. Camp NOTE: For Daniel Bardsley's story about mosquito species found in the UAE

“I said to my husband last week after the rain: ‘Just watch, we’re all going to be murdered’. And sure enough, it happened.”

Readers on The National's Facebook page also spoke of issues with the insects across the country.

Sharjah, Abu Dhabi City in addition to Jumeirah, Arabian Ranches, Al Qusais, Jumeirah Village Circle and Triangle and Al Safa in Dubai were all listed as problem spots.

“It has been ridiculous here in Al Safa 1,” wrote Nadia Logab.

“I have never experienced such bites in my life and even after the bite heals it leaves a nasty scar. I am disgusted with how bad they are and nothing, nothing seemed to help.

"I had guests staying in my house over the Christmas holidays and I was embarrassed every single day as they could not sleep and had to leave with these nasty 'souvenirs' on their bodies,” she wrote.

Dinesh Ramachandran, health and safety manager at Rentokil's UAE office, said the problem has been made worse by recent rain.

“The recent rains and water logging is one of the reasons for [the increase in mosquitoes]. Ongoing developments in urban areas are another reason,” he said.

“Wherever you find water logging you could find mosquitoes.”

He said city municipalities were quick to clear large pools of standing water in many areas.

Earlier this month it was announced that Tadweer, Abu Dhabi’s waste management centre, would roll out more than 400 solar powered ‘smart’ traps across the city to catch mosquitoes.

The traps entice mosquitoes by emitting carbon dioxide, like humans. They will then transmit data back to Tadweer about their movements and population to help the centre devise a plan to tackle them.

“They’re very serious about it and are taking every step possible to bring it under control,” said Mr Ramachandran.

Female mosquitoes are the only ones who bite humans in order to feed — male mosquitoes feed only on plants.

They are attracted by heat and carbon dioxide and typically prefer some people, although it is not always known why.

Low levels of Vitamin B12 are commonly cited as a cause, but research in 2005 disproved the theory that supplements of the vitamin could help ward them off.

In the study, scientists had a group of people take either vitamin B supplements to see if it made a difference to the number of bites they received from swarms of mosquitoes, compared to another group who took vitamin C, and a third group who took no supplements at all. There was no evidence taking Vitamin B helped protect members of the group from bites.

How to protect against mosquitoes

The wet weather brought with it pesky mosquitoes and, while bites typically heal within days, sometimes they can become swollen, infected or lead to a severe allergic reaction.

Here are a few ways to protect yourself against the airborne insects:

1. Manage your setting

Mosquitoes can breed anywhere, but they are most drawn to logged water and exposed food.

"Cleaning your space is the most important step in preventing a mosquito infestation," Dr Deepti Chaturvedi, pediatrics specialist at Burjeel Hospital, previously told The National. "This includes everything from dirty containers and dishes with uncovered food or water, to bird feeders and the floor mats of your car."

Gardens and parks, or even potted plants on your balcony are some of the worst offenders. “Teach your children to avoid these areas, whether in your apartment or villa, or in the park,” she said.

2. Use repellents

Natural repellents including lemon eucalyptus oil have been proven very successful in the fight against mosquitoes.

Deet is the most widely used insect repellent in the US and is also known to be highly effective. It came under scrutiny a few years ago after some people died from poisoning but this was proved to be a result of misuse.

Citronella oil is said to be as effective as Deet but less long lasting. Also high concentrations of citronella can cause skin irritation.

“The insect repellents sold for adults may be too concentrated for kids and cause unwanted side effects,” said Dr Chaturvedi. “30 per cent Deet is the maximum concentration you should consider for children. Also, avoid spraying or applying these on their hands and faces, as they may lick their hands or put them near the eye area.”

Picaridin is effective for up to 14 hours and provides protection against most kinds of insects.

Permethrin is great for spraying on clothing or mosquito nets but should not be applied to the skin.

3. What to do if bitten

In case of a bite, wash the affected area with soap and water and apply a cold compress or an ice pack to the swelling for 10 minutes. Over the counter ointments and antihistamines can be applied to the bites to encourage healing.