Facing significant shortages of imported insect repellants in light of Latin America’s Zika pandemic, Argentines are turning to an online market selling mosquito-eating frogs and toads to protect their homes from Aedes aegypti, the carrier of Zika, Dengue fever, and Chikungunya.
The Agence-France Presse reports that online markets in Argentina have seen a surge of interest in live frogs and toads, to be kept around the house to eat the mosquitos that carry the dreaded Zika virus. An insect-eating toad could fetch as much as 100 Argentine pesos ($7) online, significantly less than the cost of insect repellant, which has reached up to $10 a bottle.
“Frog and Toad Sale,” reads one advertisement. “They combat plagues, mosquitos, snails, beetles.” While the post is from 2010, Facebook comment activity under it is booming in the past week, with individuals attempting to sell their own frogs and toads to those finding the page through search engines. A used car sales page offers to give away frogs for free.
The Argentine media outlet Que Pasa Salta notes that they have found at least one page promising a free gift to those who buy more than five toads to keep around the house. Some salesmen promise their amphibians will “live 20 years.”
Frogs and toads are seen as a natural and potentially more effective method of containing Aedes aegypti populations. Argentine newspaper La Nación reports that Health Minister Jorge Lemus has dismissed fumigation as a solution to the Zika problem, as it kills adult mosquitos but does little to destroy eggs or contain larvae. “We are working hard to fumigate, but the mosquitos are resistant to the chemicals… it is a complimentary method [of containment].”
Lemus confirms that Argentina has diagnosed five cases of Zika, “all imported,” he notes. “There is an important number of Argentine tourists in viral circulation zones, like northern Brazil and Colombia,” he adds. While Argentina is home to the Aedes aegypti, its distance from the Equator makes it a significantly less hospitable environment for the virus during the winter season. Its closest neighbor, Chile, has no known Aedes aegypti population.
Lemus has dismissed the possibility of enhancing airport security in Argentina. “The airport measures do not yield results,” he notes.
The Zika virus is asymptomatic in 80 percent of patients, and the remaining fifth of those diagnosed experience only mild symptoms of infection. The danger in contracting the virus comes from its ties to two other crippling conditions: microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome. In Brazil, more than 4,000 infants whose mothers are believed to have contracted Zika have been born with microcephaly, a condition in which their skulls are too small for their brains, causing severe damage. Another minority of adult patients have been diagnosed with Guillain-Barré, a condition that causes severe muscle pain, paralysis, and death. The links between Zika and these two conditions are not yet clear to scientists.
In addition to the fight against Zika, Argentines have been increasingly fearful of the more potent Dengue fever infection. The result has been a market in which finding insect repellent is nearly impossible. “The need to protect oneself against the mosquito ‘invasion’ has turned into an odyssey in the capital [Buenos Aires],” La Nación wrote in January. While the government has capped insect repellent prices at $34,99 Argentine pesos, finding the products – particularly the SC Johnson Off! brand – has become nearly impossible.
La Nacion writes that perfumeries are much more likely to carry the products than pharmacies. “We get a box of repellant a week,” a pharmacy owner told the newspaper, “I displayed them and they were gone in two hours.”
In Brazil and Colombia, where Zika has become a pandemic, military officials are going door-to-door distributing repellant to pregnant women, who are most at-risk for harming their infant through Zika infection.