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Let's re-energise that anti-mosquito campaign

Monday, June 11, 2018

We note understandable alarm following reports that two deaths — a seven-year-old child late last year and a woman in her 30s in April — may have been caused by the mosquito-borne disease dengue fever.

Dengue, of course, is not new. It first swept through a 'virgin' Jamaican population like wildfire in 1977, causing severe illness for thousands of people and a few deaths as well.

Many older Jamaicans will remember being struck down in their youth and prime by the dreaded illness — some falling helplessly to the ground on taking the ill-advised decision to leave their beds.

Like the chikungunya virus which ran through the Jamaican population a few years ago, and the z ika virus which later caused a major scare, dengue is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. There is no specific medication to prevent or cure. Typically it runs its course with varying degrees of severity.

Experts describe dengue as a flu-like illness that affects infants, young children and adults. It can be severe and can lead to death. Symptoms typically begin four to 10 days after infection. This may include a high fever, headache, vomiting, muscle and joint pains, extreme weakness, and skin rash. Severe cases can include continuous abdominal pain and persistent vomiting.

The Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) warned last month that while Chik V and ZikV are not expected to be major factors any time soon, the region should “gear-up for the possibility of a major outbreak of dengue fever in 2018”.

CARPHA said at the time that an outbreak is possible because the “pre-conditions of abundant mosquito vector levels still exist, and increased levels of dengue are being reported in Latin America and elsewhere”.

As is the case with ChikV and Zik V, the only sure way to combat dengue is to reduce the Aedes aegypti population by destroying breeding grounds and preventing the formation of such.

When afflicted by severe mosquito infestation, Jamaicans like to call on the authorities for chemical intervention, including fogging.

Yet, it is well established that the easiest way to combat the Aedes aegypti is to clean up the areas in and around homes, schools, places of business, and other population centres. Specifically, anything that will collect water and allow the smosquitoes to breed should be removed. Stored water needed for domestic purposes should be treated to counter mosquitoes. Water for pets, etc, should be changed regularly.

Uncovered drums, discarded tyres, carelessly discarded plastic, paper-based and styrofoam bags, boxes and other containers — all of which can collect water — provide rich breeding opportunities for mosquitoes. The issue becomes especially urgent at this time with the onset of the hurricane season and the possibility of periods of intense rain during the next several months.

In that respect, this newspaper thought clean-up campaigns and allied mass media public education campaigns by the authorities over recent years had the effect of building public understanding and appreciation.

Unfortunately, we sense that over the last year that energy for anti-mosquito public education and activity has waned.

It has to be understood that to be fully effective public education can't be stop, start. The message has to be persistent and creative so that the desired mode of behaviour is accepted and sustained.

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton and his team should get cracking on this one.