Dengue and Fogging in Southeast Asia

March 11, 2013

Dengue fever and mosquito fogging in Asia

Escaping winter in tropical Asia is cheap and fun, but dengue and toxic fogging are two things I least like about my tropical island paradise. I remember them fogging when I was a kid living in Miami long ago, but now that we are on a serious health journey and eating super healthy, I spend all my spare time reading up on health and how to stay healthier, so these things concern me.

No matter where you live, we all deal with many more cumulative toxins in our daily lives. Reading books like "The Hundred-Year Lie" by investigative journalist Randal Fitzgerald and "Detoxify or Die" by Dr. Sherry Rogers M.D. and others, has made me more aware of just how bad our environment is and how it is affecting everyone's health and quality of life. Just because you don't get sick immediately, doesn't mean it is not a problem.

mosquito fogging and dengue


Dengue is a flu-like viral disease spread by infected mosquitoes and occurs in most tropical parts of the world including the U.S.( primarily Florida, along the Texas/Mexico border and southern part of the country). There is no treatment for Dengue and a complication called Dengue hemorrhagic fever can be very serious or ( like all flu) even fatal.

 Dengue is common in Asia, Africa, the Americas, Australia, and the Caribbean. According to WHO reports, dengue has been on the increase in Southeast Asia, despite the regions efforts to combat the mosquito-borne disease. One finds it in Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Phillippines, India, Singapore, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal,  China and more.

mosquito fogging and dengue


The best way to avoid it is to avoid all mosquito bites. Interestingly, not ONE Penang apartment that we have seen or lived in has had screens on the windows. which seems quite common in tropical Asia and even Tahiti ( where dengue is also prominent). Since the Mayo clinic listed screens on all windows as one of the best preventatives, this does seem strange.

I think it helps to live on a high floor in a breezy area near the sea, as we have had windows open day and night ( we close when lights go on) in our 20 months here and almost never get mosquito bites.( If one doesn't open windows and doors here, one tends to get mold/mildew problems.)

Dengue mosquitoes bite during the day, so dawn and dusk are the time for most precaution. Because our daughter is always out during the dawn to go to her Chinese school, we always use an all  natural, organic mosquito repellent ( even though she complains it is stinky).  We do not use Deet ( due to it's dangers)  and avoid as many toxic chemicals that we can. I haven't tried this natural Dengue  homeopathic prevention and cure but it is the type of thing I would try if I suspected one of us was exposed.

I think the BEST prevention for ANY disease is to have a healthy immune system, which comes from making good organic food choices with things like daily bone broth, kefir, raw pastured eggs, fermented foods like salsa and mayo,and more. I think these eating strategies to cure a cold or flu, also will help prevent Dengue and other viruses. If one should get it, then being as healthy as possible should make it less severe with a quick recovery compared to a person eating lots of sugar and processed foods that weaken the body and immune system.

mosquito fogging and dengue Penang


The people selling it and governments using it ( including in USA) will tell you it is safe, but I don't think that is true. Sometimes you get warning signs here to stay indoors and close windows ( which we always try to do),  but often there is no notice since it goes on so much and the wind spreads it,  and I have often seen children playing in this toxic fog. Ugh.

"Pesticides have been associated with the development of certain cancers in children, including leukemia, sarcomas, and brain tumors. Many classes of pesticides have been shown to adversely affect the developing nervous system of experimental animals. Parental exposure to pesticides has been linked
with birth defects in children. New studies suggest that pesticides may compromise the immune system of infants and children". - Journal of Environmental Health

Even Mozart got stuck in it one time when the fogging started when she was out playing, but she knew to cover her face and come in immediately. The other kids remained playing in it. I felt horrible and heart sick about it or every time I see kids in it. I once watched a mom with 4 kids that looked under five in it, with two in a stroller and wondered how it would affect their lives.

"Impairment of the immune system by chemical pesticides can lead to allergies, auto immune disorders such as lupus, and cancer. It may also lead to infections to which one may be normally resistant." World Resources Institute

mosquito fogging and dengue SE Asia


Penang only approves one substance for mosquito fogging and it is called  Resigen. It contains Permethrin , S-Bioallethrin  and Piperonyl butoxide. This seemed to be an honest take on the dangers of fogging .

A Center review of the past 10 years’ worth of more than 90,000 adverse-reaction reports, filed with the EPA by pesticide manufacturers, found that pyrethrins and pyrethroids together accounted for more than 26 percent of all fatal, “major,” and “moderate” human incidents in the United States in 2007, up from 15 percent in 1998. Although the number of fatalities was low — about 20 from 2003 to 2007 — the amount of moderate and serious incidents attributed to the group — more than 6,000 — is significantly greater than any other class of insecticide.- The Center for Public Integrity

Considering that these are sprayed at least weekly here  ( and sometimes several times during the week) in surrounding areas that we can view from our high floor, the possible toxic levels are pretty scary.

"It’s important to remember that your public health and safety organizations are taking their information from the EPA, FDA and the manufacturers of the chemicals. You are not getting the truth. The goal of chemical manufacturers is to keep their chemicals on the market so they make money, not to protect the consumer and unfortunately the EPA and FDA are in their pocket. They hold out on listing the toxicity of a product until their hand is forced, they are often only concerned with whether a chemical causes cancer, when cancer is only one possible effect of toxicity." Cynthia Perkins M. Ed.

( This quote is about USA, but I think it holds true for most countries as not enough people are paying attention to these problems until it is too late. If anything, the laws in developing countries tend to be  even more lacking in environmental ways).

mosquito fogging and dengue Malaysia


PERMETHRIN is a synthetic pyrethroid insecticide and neurotoxin. It is more acutely toxic to children than to adults. They are now used in thousands of consumer products from Raid Ant and Roach Killer to Hartz Dog Flea & Tick Killer. These chemicals are also  found in  bug-repellant clothing, automatic misting devices, lawn-care products, and carpet sprays.
In 2009, even  the ( VERY lenient)  EPA classified Permethrin as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” and it has been shown to cause immune system damage as well as birth defects.

Piperonyl butoxide ( PBO) is listed as a suspected gastrointestinal or liver toxicant and neurotoxicant by the National Institude for Occupational Safety and Health as well as a suspected carcinogen by the EPA's Office of Pesticide Program.

S-Bioallethrin is also a pyrethroid pesticide and listed on the EPA's BAD For Our Brain list.

These pesticides are very dangerous on their own, but working together they are even more powerful,  with long term affects to all living things they reach.

"Despite manufacturers’ assurances of safety, scientists have begun to pay closer attention to the effects of pyrethrins and pyrethroids on children. A team of researchers from Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and the CDC published a study in 2006 that found even children fed an exclusively organic diet had pyrethroid metabolites in their systems after their parents had used pyrethroid pesticides in their homes" 'Safe" Pesticides now first in poisoning


Really, no matter where you live today, there are no easy answers, but it helps to be more aware so one can avoid as many toxins as possible. We've always tried to keep pesticide and toxic chemical exposure down as much as possible, partly by eating organic food, not doing any vaccines and also using natural products like DIY shampoo, tooth paste, cleaning supplies and even homemade deodorant.

We "shut down" our tropical home at the first sign of fogging and keep it closed. They tend to do it here in Penang around 5 or 6 pm, so as much possible, we try to be inside during those hours,especially on Thursday when we know they spray nearby.  It smells horrible like a very strong poison, but we hope and pray we are avoding as much as we can and usually can't smell it when everything is locked down.

I've read that it is good to stay in at least 12 hours after the fogging and we do that as we are usually inside at night anyway with things closed down until bed time ( and all night on those nights) and also have adopted the custom here of not wearing shoes inside to not track any in. Hmm, maybe we will swtich to closed windows every night.

How about you? How to do you handle worries about living in our toxic world and dealing with things like Dengue or fogging?

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Jenny J

This is a really important post that all travelers to Asia should take note of. Dengue fever is no light illness and is indeed deadly if you contract the worst strain. Whenever I travel in Asia ( usually Bali or Malaysia) I am frantic about mozzie repellant. We prefer the 'Rid" cream that you can find quite easily locally when you are traveling in these areas.Its easy to apply and stays on..great when you have kids traveling with you.

Sara Kate

I just wandered into your wonderful odyssey a few days ago. I think the idea of a slow trip around the world is something that should be a priority for everyone who doesn't ascribe to "carpe diem" (my favorite motto, BTW). It would certainly broaden their horizons and might engender a tolerance for all things they deem as "foreign." I love Mozart! She's a true light to the world. How lovely to have her with you to experience everything through her eager eyes, as well as your own. I have the utmost respect and admiration for your strength and courage. Reading your account of your illness, and your commitment to continue your trip despite being sick, was inspiring. It gave me a whole new perspective on my own aches and pains. I'm keeping you in my thoughts (as, I'm sure so many others are)and sending cyber-hugs to all three of you. Fair winds and following seas! Sara Kate


Fogging is done here also, although I think they use malathion here. Mind you, it's only done in the summer months, and certainly no-where near as often as what you describe in Penang.

Also, when they fog here, they do it overnight when everyone is sleeping, in order to minimize exposure. I wonder why they don't do that in Malaysia?


Hmmm... regarding the timing of spraying, it just occurred to me that here where I live now, mosquitoes are mostly active at night - maybe that's another reason why they spray at night.

Perhaps in Malaysia spraying at the end of they day has the best chance of killing both the mosquitoes that spread Dengue (active mostly in daytime) and mosquitoes that spread malaria (active at night)??

Just guessing... trying to figure out their reasoning...

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks Jenny,

I've heard the mosquitoes are really bad in Bali, but they seem quite rare to our life here.

I think one needs to be aware of the dangers, but also remember that 50 to 90% of people who get Dengue have NO SYMPTOMS.

I know LOTS of people here and none who have gotten Dengue, so it's not that common with first world types here even if they don't have a good diet and don't really take precautions or use repellent.

Good diet and good common sense also helps ( as do fans and high floors).

After 20 months here with open windows, I have had maybe one or two mosquito bites and I almost never use repellent or use anything in the home.

I would also caution about Rid as I see it has Deet in it which is VERY dangerous..even more so for kids.

NOT a good idea for health to be slathering that on daily IMHO. Looks like it contains 20% Deet..yuck.

IF I use a repellent I want one 100% natural and organic with NO DEET!

Jeanne @soultravelers3

So happy you found us dear Sara Kate and I so appreciate your sweet comment!

I see my health issue that began with my bike wreck and surgery in Austria, really a blessing in disguise as I've learned soooo much because of it.

I am feeling quite good at the moment and happy to be doing this health journey and helping my family do one as well.

Perfect age for Mozart to add these insights as well!! ;)

Jeanne @soultravelers3

I am sorry to hear they are fogging in your area as well, Sheralyn and malathion is another super scary toxic chemical.

Thankfully, they do it less often there.

Yes, the Dengue mosquitoes are active in the day, so that is probably the reason. But I am not sure.


My husband and I live in Penang, and as I was getting out of the car on the street near our apartment block, it felt like it was raining. No, wrong! Fogging. Finished with their fogging of the apartment block, the workers were emptying their tanks into the drainage area, and it was billowing up from underneath the sidewalk. Two weeks after exposure, my left foot began to itch 2/47, which turned out to be neuropathy -- tingling of the nerves, which soon spread throughout my body, followed by dizziness, extreme fatigue, and other symptoms. The effects of the exposure lasted 4-5 months, and resulted in damage to my hearing and balance nerves in my ears. When I'm stressed or go without sleep now, the itchy foot will warn me of intermittent dizziness during coming hours. We have a family prone to auto-immune responses, but this result is common with certain pesticides. Watching the workmen being doused in it all the time is really sad, and it goes home on their clothes to expose their families, too.

The hemorrhagic form of Dengue occurs when a person has already had a bout with one of the four types and then gets sick again with another of the four. Thanks for the article.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks so much for your comment GTO and sharing your experience. I am really sorry to hear about your problems with the fogging here, but imagine this must be pretty common and most people don't realize the danger.


Thanks for your informative blog regarding the danger of fogging. It reminds me of those crazy evenings when I was in Penang with my kids. Whenever the authority started fogging, I would hide any uncovered food into the fridge and oven, grab my diaper bag and escape in the car. We ended up driving around aimlessly until I felt safe enough to return to my own home. Looking around, to my surprise nobody seem to care. They simply carried on with life as if they couldn't smell or see the poison fog. I felt like I was one paranoid mom. Your article assured me that I've been doing the right thing all along.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks Ann, I am absolutely amazed at how many people don't pay a bit of attention about this problem.

Yesterday I watched from a distance while a ton of kids were playing in it. Sigh.

There is no education here that I can see about the dangers. Most travelers and expats also don't pay attention.

It is horrible that there is usually no warning and fogging from different areas can infiltrate one's home.

The smell is horrible, so it is so odd that people don't have some clue about the problem and look a little deeper.

I am not sure the car is the best answer or even if there is a best answer. It is hard to shut everything down in a house or apt here as they have open windows in bathrooms and such, so at least a little is bound to get in.

We shut everything down, including closing the bathroom and kitchen doors and like you remove all food in the open.

I do worry about this still and hope our super good organic diet and close down techniques protects us some.


In 2007, we took two weeks home-trip back to Penang. To my horror, our area was fogged at least three times a week because there was some construction workers, who were set up in make-shift containers nearby, contracted dengue. Every time we heard the siren, we fled in our rental car until we reach somewhere safe which can be quite a distance away and we returned home considerably late and exhausted.
Living in a high-rise apt should be safer.
We are vegetarians, so organic and non-GMO are most crucial to us too.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

That is horrible Ann, but I have seen similar often here ( and never have heard an alarm). There is constant construction here ( probably more now than 2007) so tons of very poor people living in horrific primitive conditions with no running water.

I do think these folks are the ones most at risk for dengue and also the chemicals in the sprays.

I think living in a high rise and near the breezy sea probably helps some, but, like you, I do worry about this practice.

It is sooo over done here and the people are not warned or educated about the dangers.

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