I had never encountered coils until my first visit to North Caicos, when we arrived right at a huge hatching time for those annoying blood-suckers. Susie Gardiner kept our hotel room supplied with them, and they burned in the corners of the Pelican Beach Hotel bar while everyone drank and slapped, nodding along to Lovey Forbes' song, "Bloody Mosquitoes."
I thought the incense smell was odd, but over time I got used to it and was grateful for any help against the insect onslaught, only briefly wondering about what I was inhaling.
The coils weren't such good stuff in that department. More facts from Wikipedia: The smoke from one coil has the same particulate mass as 75 to 137 burning cigarettes in the room would give, and the formaldehyde can be as high as that released from 51 burning cigarettes.
That, however, wouldn't stop me from lighting coils in every room to fight the mosquitoes brought on from the island's recent Cristobal deluge, because mosquito bites can spread dengue fever and chikungunya virus (a malady with similar symptoms). I'd rather take my chances with the smoke.
If you are reading this in the comfort of a tidied-up American or Canadian environment, you might think, "Oh, how Third World!" But no place is immune from the nasty surprises Mother Nature can provide. A number of U.S. states are currently dealing with an enterovirus outbreak, and there are good reasons we are encouraged to get flu shots every year. Polio is making a comeback, as is tuberculosis. And then there are threats such as SARS and Ebola.
We all live in the Third World, because we all live in the world. So, my friends in the Turks and Caicos, light those coils and unfurl the mosquito nets. Stay safe.