I first went to India at the end of 1997 I was a bit nervous of catching malaria or other diseases, so I went along to Trailfinders Travel clinic in Kensington High Street and the doctor recommended I take a malaria prophylactic as well as all the usual shots like typhoid and so she prescribed paludrine and avloclor which I had to start taking the week before I left. Although I had a few stomach pains they were not too bad compared to many of the stories I’d heard and read about anti-malarials.
So off I went to India feeling pretty safe and secure. This soon changed after getting Delhi belly in Mumbai. So after a week in Goa for Christmas I travelled by train to Cochin, Kerela, for New Year – a low risk malarial area at a low risk time of year. I was using a Deet-based repellent that had been recommended to me by Boots in the UK. Needless to say, I still got bitten; mosquitoes have built up resistance to many pesticides such as Deet and it no longer affords 100% protection, if it ever did. Also, over dinner on New Year’s Day, sitting outside with my partner in the humid tropical evening, she motioned me to look down, my shirt was in shreds and I was looking like the incredible Hulk –only without his physique- the Deet had dissolved most of my top!
I received many bites, mainly around my ankles and they itched like mad. But worse I had contracted malaria. This was during a bank holiday weekend, so no doctor was available. I was delirious with a high temperature of 103 degrees, hot and cold sweats, vomiting and diarrhea
We had to travel a nightmare 1000 mile journey consisting of a 12-hour high-speed bus ride, followed by a train and finally a flight from Trivandrum, the nearest airport, back to Mumbai, where I received medical treatment. All the way I felt awful, like I was dying. Initially I thought I had giardiasis, but when the malarial haze lifted I was sure it was malaria and had to press the doctor on this as he was convinced it was something else! If malaria is treated within two weeks it does not re-occur. I consider myself lucky that I caught it in time.
After being given the all clear by the Hospital for Tropical Diseases I returned to work in publishing 2 months later. I still had the travel bug, so later on that year I went on an 11 day trip to Thailand. Having been put off anti-malarials from my India experience I decided to try a homeopathic version. Arriving at Bangrong Pier in Phuket I chartered a fishing boat to Ko Yao Noi, an island off the beaten tourist track fringing the Andaman Sea.
When I look back now I really didn’t have a clue about many things including how to protect myself from mosquitoes, sure I took along maximum strength Deet, wristbands and a torch, but what I really needed was a good mosquito net; nothing that you put on or plug in will protect you all night from getting bitten. Smoke coil rings will stop the insects coming in but as they are poisonous you will die after a few nights, which is not very appealing! I awoke with about 20 bites, the next night was similar and I left the island the following morning in search of relief for my itching bites. I was also getting bitten during the day as the DEET didn’t offer adequate protection. I then visited Phi Phi before returning to London, adding a few more bites. It has now been discovered that Deet is a neurotoxin and working in the same way as nerve gas used in chemical warfare, so I no longer use it and advise others to do the same.
Upon visiting my youngest daughter’s prospective school the headmistress was talking about their medical facilities and that they had a nurse on site, suddenly I was feeling very ill, I raised my hand, asking to visit her. She took my temperature and suggested I go to hospital, so off I went in a taxi to the Hospital of Tropical Diseases as my temperature was over 102 and rising. When I got there another nurse registered it at over 103 though the doctor didn’t want to admit me -I think they were short of beds- he tried a couple of times to get me to go home but as I was aching all over with profuse sweating and feeling worse than I had ever felt in my life, I decided I was going nowhere. By now my temperature had risen to 104.1! Eventually I was wheeled along to the ward singing at the top of my voice, “IT’S A NICE DAY TO HAVE A FEVER….” to the tune of It’s A Long Way To Tipperary! It was the only way I could cope with the intense pain all over my body. I knew I was in trouble when they escorted this gaunt, under-nourished girl, still attached to a drip, out of a quarantined room and put me inside! I don’t remember much more about that night. In the morning a nurse said that the night staff had enjoyed my impromptu concert and could I sing for them!?
I was later diagnosed with dengue fever, which used to be called break-bone fever because of the intense joint and muscular pain. It is a virus only transmitted through the aedes genus of mosquitoes – they only bite during the day. There is no cure for dengue, like many other mosquito borne diseases the best cure is prevention. So, the seed was firmly planted in my mind that I was going to find something that really worked against all mosquitoes and was safe for humans and the environment; thus incognito was born. It has taken me over 10 years to develop a spray this strong and I am very proud that it is helping people all over the world.
It has been a long journey but worth every step of the way. Now I can go into a jungle and not get any bites thanks to incognito and my research.