By Trudy Christian, MPH
What do Dengue, Yellow Fever, Chikungunya and Zika all have in common?
Yes they’re all viral infections you’d prefer not have. Yes, they all result in some of the same symptoms which include fever, rash, joint pain and muscle pain. But of primary importance is the fact that all these diseases have the same vector, the female Aedes aegypti mosquito.
The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has warned that a dengue outbreak is imminent in the Caribbean region. The last major dengue outbreak was in 2009, and it was followed by a major Chikungunya outbreak in 2014 and a Zika outbreak in 2016. Disease modeling shows that with high levels of the vector in our region, as well as a recent outbreak in Jamaica, the threat of a regional dengue outbreak is becoming increasingly high. The scary thing about dengue is its potential to develop into severe dengue, or Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever (DHF) which is the leading cause of hospitalization and death among children and adults in most Asian and Latin American countries, according to the WHO. What the Caribbean region is gearing itself up for is an intense battle.
When preparing for any battle, knowing your enemy is critical. The vector, the Aedes aegypti, is a mosquito species which prefers to breed in household containers. It likes fresh stagnant water for breeding and so isn’t common in swampy areas or uninhabited forested areas. Those uncovered water storage drums, discarded tires, flower pots and crates of empty soft drink and beer bottles which many of us keep in the backyard, once filled with any amount of water, are ideal breeding grounds for female Aedes.
Knowing where Aedes is found is not enough, what about how it behaves? This mosquito is known to bite aggressively during the day, particularly at dusk and dawn and is known as an indoor mosquito. You will rarely get bitten by Aedes aegypti hiking a forest trail, but whilst you’re relaxing at home you’re more likely to be targeted.
How does the enemy look? The Aedes aegypti can be easily distinguished from other types of mosquitoes by the white markings on its legs. Other common species like Culex lack such tell-tale identifiers. Just like a tiger, you can know Aedes aegypti by its stripes!
Now what’s going to be our strategy against Aedes aegypti? We first need to focus on source reduction. We should eliminate all potential breeding areas for the mosquito from around our homes. Cover drums, barrels and other water storage containers with air-tight lids and ensure that there is also no accumulation of stagnant water on top of these lids. We need to clean up our surroundings by getting rid of those empty bottles, old tires and unused flower pots. Improper garbage disposal and a preponderance of litter in our immediate surrounding are factors which play nicely into the hands of the pesky Aedes mosquito. If the mosquito can’t easily find places to breed, its numbers will lessen drastically.
Not only should the breeding grounds of Aedes be eliminated but the adult mosquitoes need to be killed as well. We can utilize coils or vape mats in the home or spray rooms with insecticide. Now is a good time to make mosquito zapping a hobby. It can even be made fun with those electric mosquito zappers shaped like tennis rackets. Why not take down the enemy while envisioning yourself as Serena Williams, dominating the tennis court? Ideally though, we should focus on not getting bitten by mosquitoes. Using insect repellant and ensuring we use it to spray exposed areas of our skin like legs and arms particularly whilst we’re indoors. Remember, Aedes aegypti is a household mosquito. The smell of the repellant is an issue for many, but I can assure you compared to having dengue, it’s the lesser of two evils. Also we should remember to close doors and windows at dusk which is peak time for the Aedes aegypti to feed. They tend to swarm into the home if they’re outside at this time looking for a meal. If possible, sleeping under an insecticide treated mosquito net and also wearing light colored long-sleeved clothing are good ideas.
Remember, the battle against the Aedes aegypti mosquito is not solely that of CARPHA or environmental health departments across the region. We all need to fight too. Our health depends on it.