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Bitten by the holiday bug?

Byline: Tony Pogson ,

"bite the dust", "Bite the bullet", "Once bitten, twice shy"...

We seem obsessed with teeth. Long ago they were as good as modern fingerprints, ID cards or signatures.

William the Conqueror used his bite mark to authenticate seals; an indentured apprentice was just that - a person who put his teeth into the seal on the contract.

When I got back the other day from holiday in Scotland, the first thing my boss asked was to see the midge bite marks. (It rained so much that there weren't any).

Since then I've been doing a spot of research into a malaria research campaign and reading a book called, appropriately enough, Bitten - and I don't know that I ever want to go on holiday again, especially abroad, without first nipping over to Leeds to borrow a suit of armour from the Royal Armouries.

In the world at large malaria kills more people than Aids and is second only to tuberculosis as the most deadly infectious disease.

It's a disease of tropical and sub-tropical regions (principally West and East Africa, South East Asia, Central and South America, and the Indian subcontinent) - although it has been hinted that global warming could bring it here.

It threatens the lives of about 40% of the world's population, infects 300-500m people and causes over one million deaths each year worldwide.

It's particularly hard on children: in Africa a child dies every 30 seconds from the disease, the world toll is 3,000 children per day - the equivalent of seven Jumbo jets full.

Blame the bite of the mosquito for this scourge, thereby passing on the four types of malaria parasite.

Malaria is preventable: the best single cure is a mosquito net costing less than pounds 3.

In Bitten, the author Dr Pamela Nagami, a clinical associate professor of medicine at UCLA, and a specialist in infectious diseases for a quarter of a century, has lined up a whole host of critters out there just waiting to get you, with a whole host of gory, painful and potentially fatal consequences.

Some of them are only too obvious: the 450 species of venomous snakes which kill 30,000-40,000 people a year and the world's 34,000 spiders which can promise a rich variety of potentially baffling diseases.

Dr Nagami, who seemingly has a keen sense of humour (perhaps you need it in her line of work) reports that the advance of plumbing science and the loss of the old outhouse means that spiders nowadays bite more bare hands than bare bums; while in the US she notes wryly that the typical snake victim is young, male- and drunk. Enough said!

The attentive reader will have realised that Australia has more than its share of deadly snakes and spiders on the land and might rashly conclude that as a tourist you'd be better off in the water.

This, of course, is to lose sight entirely of the sharks, the crocs and the jellyfish which often see lifesavers Down Under sporting pantyhose as a protection.

Not to mention the beautiful but venomous cone snail which has come up with a spider-like solution to how such a slow-moving creature can hope to catch its prey - by injecting it with a cocktail of about a dozen small toxic compounds.

In man that produces "a paralytic syndrome resembling botulism" and the cone snail's ability to adapt the mixture to match its prey has bewildered those hoping for an antivenom.

A by-product though has been the development of a drug 10 to 1,000 times more potent than morphine for killing pain.

There's hardly space left to consider the tse-tse fly bite that leads to sleeping sickness, the devastating impact of the humble tick, the new US curse of the red fire ant, komodo dragons, the sandfly that causes the hideously transforming sponge face, rabies and the cats, horses, donkeys, camels, seals, ostriches and monkeys which can all leave their mark.

* Bitten, Bites and Stings from Around the World, by Dr Pamela Nagami, Vision Paperbacks. pounds 11.99
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Jun 27, 2005
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