This mosquito season in Delhi has inflicted a high number of casualties. By the last week of September, there were nearly 3,700 reported cases of chikungunya in the nation's capital and another 1,700 cases of dengue. By one count, the vector-borne diseases have killed at least 10 people this year.
In a desperate attempt to control the epidemics, the Delhi municipal authorities have been fumigating parts of the city, often many times a day. At the same time, residents have been making arrangements of their own.
In previous years, people dealt with the mosquito menace by using plug-in mosquito repellents, mosquito nets or dressing in clothes that provided maximum coverage. But of late, a steady stream of new mosquito repellents and gizmos have been flooding the market.
Cashing in on the distaste for smearing sticky, often strongly-scented lotions on the skin, entrepreneurs have begun to manufacture wrist bands, bracelets and patches that ward off mosquitoes without the mess.
Schools like NK Bagrodia Public School in Dwarka, in addition to fumigating their premises in accordance with the official advisory, have begun distributing such bands to their students, with the recommendation that they be worn at all times.
Attack of the gizmos
Chemists say the mosquito-repellent bands, priced in the range of Rs 180 to Rs 500, are flying off the shelves.
“The demand was pretty high right after the monsoon season," said Sanjay Chugh, owner of Sanjay Medical Store in East Patel Nagar. "It has only increased once schools have reopened.”
Several other sorts of mosquito-repellent accessories are available online. The Dabur mosquito-repellent band, which features the animated character Chota Bheem, is priced at Rs 199. Medically coated citronella bands are nearly double the price, at Rs 399.
These bands claim to be free from diethyltoluamide or DEET, a mosquito-killing chemical considered harmful for children. Some brands, like Odomos, require the user to prick the band in several spots before wearing it. All of them need to be replaced in a week.
“I have a baby daughter too but she is too young to be wearing bands,“ said Sumathy Rao, a manager with American Express, who picked up a band for her seven-year-old son Atharva Vasanth.
There appear to be few cheaper alternatives to prevent vector-borne diseases at present.
Mosquito-repellent patches claim to emit chemical compounds that "block a mosquito's ability to sense humans". From plain yellow stickers to colourful ones with cartoons, these patches are priced between Rs 180 for a pack of 12, to Rs 240 for four smiley stickers.
Repellers India LLP, a company that claims to be the biggest manufacturer of mosquito-repellent accessories for children, has its stocks in approximately 4,000 shops in the National Capital Region.
"July to November is peak mosquito season and we need to be able to provide fresh stock to fulfil demand," said Nakul Jain, the co-owner and vice president of the company. "The fastest moving products are the mosquito bands and patches. Kids love them.”
Can a smartphone repel mosquitoes?
Dengue has plagued the world since the 1780s, and caused its first epidemic in India in 2006. At least 3,613 confirmed cases of dengue fever were reported that year, and over 50 people died in the outbreak.
This year, some people have turned to their phones for a solution: the most popular dengue-fighting app for Android phones is simply called Mosquito Repellent. According to the makers, as soon as the user runs this app, high frequency notes begin to repel any mosquitoes that may be around.
The iPhone app called Anti Mosquito – Sonic Repeller also operates on the same principle. As of now, there is not enough scientific data to indicate whether these apps are actually useful.