Thu | Mar 21, 2019

A national dengue elimination day is needed – Tomlinson Morris

Published:Saturday | February 23, 2019 | 12:07 AM
An Aedes aegypti mosquito, the principal vector of dengue fever.
Dr Tamra Tomlinson
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The dengue fever epidemic in Jamaica has shown no sign of slowing down. Unfortunately, we are still talking about it and children continue to get very ill and even die from the disease. The media and the Ministry of Health have provided information about the disease, how it is spread, how to prevent it, the symptoms and signs and how to manage it.

Sometimes, when a message is heard too often, its significance appears diminished. And quite often, we tend to not think about the seriousness of a situation until it affects someone close to us; a sister, a niece, a cousin, and a parent’s worst fear, their child.

Dengue does not discriminate or care about who you are. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, you can get dengue fever. If you live uptown or downtown, you can get dengue. If you have an active lifestyle or a sedentary one, you can get dengue. About 2.5 per cent of people with severe dengue die from the disease, children being the most susceptible. Until there is a safe and effective vaccine, no one is immune and it therefore behoves us all to take the threat of dengue personally and make it our responsibility.

POPULATION CONTROL

The primary method to stop the spread of dengue fever is to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito population. This mosquito is the vector for the disease. As a reminder, the female Aedes aegypti needs blood to reproduce. She will feed on the blood of a person infected with the ­dengue virus and then becomes infected. She will again, in a few days, feed on another healthy human being and pass the virus through her saliva to them. The female usually lays her eggs in shallow water, which then hatch in one to two days. These eggs are quite resilient so if the water dries out, the eggs can survive for up to eight months. When it rains again or water covers the egg, they hatch and become adults in less than a week.

This is where we can have a ­significant impact in reducing the spread of dengue. As a worker in the health field, it is heartbreaking to see the debilitating effects of the disease on our children, and equally infuriating to know that simple actions can prevent the pain that our ­children endure.

We must eliminate the mosquito ­breeding sites.

We have to de-bush our yards; we have to clean our gullies; we have to cover our storage containers; we have to contain our garbage.

This requires some discipline and concern for our neighbours. Both traits are ones that our people need to again aspire to during this disheartening period in our history.

Households, communities, towns and parishes should have dedicated days to eliminating the sites for mosquito breeding. It takes public will and a national consciousness to control this outbreak. A national dengue elimination day would go a far way in breaking the epidemic. We cannot only rely on the government interventions, which employ many methods, including fogging, making mosquitoes sterile, in combination with public education campaigns aimed at changing behaviour. In my time, at the risk of dating myself, I knew the words of the ‘two is better than two many’ National Family Planning Agency ad campaign, starring Judy Smith and Bev Johnson (nee Brown) by heart, which I’m sure influenced my latter-day reproductive choices. Let’s hope that the ‘If yuh nuh waan pap down and fenke-fenke, yuh fi bun mosquito and run weh dengue!’ message will have the same effect on this generation in controlling this outbreak and preventing future ones.

Dr Tamra Tomlinson Morris is a paediatrician and cardiologist at the Paediatric Place. Email feedback to editor@gleanerjm.com