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September 20, 2018

Gecko And The Snake, Which Do You Prefer?

About 75-80 per cent of Kenya's population live in the rural areas. Of the 20-25 per cent that live in urban areas, about half live in Nairobi city.

Living in the city confers certain advantages.

For example, 83 per cent of urban population have access to an improved water source. What this means is that this is the proportion of the population with access to an improved drinking water source.

An improved water source excludes river water or a pond, but includes piped water whether within the house or a public standpipe; collected rainwater; boreholes and protected springs.

This compares with just 54 per cent of the rural population.

These figures haven't changed much since 1999 when the comparative figures were 83 per cent and 52 per cent, urban and rural respectively. Which perhaps make it surprising that so many urbanites develop a taste for rural homes, a 'shags'.

Some people put in substantial amounts of money and time to build a house, which they stay in for very few days in the year, the odd weekend, perhaps Easter, usually Christmas. Which means that for most of the year the house is empty of humans, inviting other living creatures to occupy a nice 'home'.

Other than insects and bats one common inhabitant of an empty house is the common house gecko, Hemidactylus frenatus. When called by a fellow gecko, the house gecko makes a chirping tchak, tchak, tchak sound. Other than that they are quiet creatures found sticking to the ceiling or wall above head level.

Many people do not mind geckoes, recognising that they feed primarily on insects that might be a nuisance. However left in a house in the tropics alone free of predators and humans for a few months they will eat and breed.

The result is a house with a lot of black and white gecko guano everywhere. The choice there is between having to cover all your furniture carefully between every visit, then making sure you arrive 'home' early enough to clean the stuff out or having no geckoes and finding a house full of cobwebs, wasps and ant colonies.

But those are not the only options. Folklore has it that if you find the house clean, devoid of geckoes and insects scarce too then you should be scared to enter because it means there is something else living in your house —a snake.

Snakes hardly make a sound, which is what makes them so dangerous. Almost in the same way, tapeworms which can be many metres long can be silent yet dangerous.

Six types of tapeworms are known to infect people. They are usually identified by the animals they come from — for example Taenia saginata from beef, Taenia solium from pork, and

Diphyllobothrium latum from fish. The major factor that can lead to infestation with tapeworm is poor hygiene, where a lack of water and good hand washing practices leads to a risk of swallowing contaminated matter.

Living in close contact with livestock especially where sanitation is poor is also a risk as is eating undercooked meats of infected animals. A person infected with tapeworm often shows no symptoms apart from occasionally passing a tapeworm segment in their stool. However symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, weight loss and symptoms of vitamin and mineral deficiencies can occur. In rare cases, tapeworms can cause serious complications, including intestinal blockage.

Diagnosis of tapeworm infection requires you to suspect that you may have them then to have a stool test which would show a tapeworm segment. Treatment is through taking drugs, which kill the adult worm and also cause the worm segments to be passed out of the body. Check the stool again after a month or two to confirm that the infection has cleared.

For the urbanite, in the house that you live in most of the time, if there are few geckoes around you can try to reduce their numbers. Practice basic hygiene and get rid of insects that geckoes feed on and their numbers will reduce. Management of the rural house rarely lived offers a dilemma. We want an alternative to the city but have to remember that in most of our rural areas the people are poor and the environment still hazardous despite appearing benign on the surface.

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