CBH actively working to keep dengue fever at bay

With news of the recent outbreak of dengue fever in Jamaica and Guyana and three dengue-related deaths in Trinidad & Tobago, the Central Board of Health (CBH) is taking several steps to curb the mosquito population here in Antigua & Barbuda.

According to Chief Health Inspector Lionel Michael, the problem of mosquito infestation is being tackled on a number of fronts.

“We make home inspections, (we are) checking water containers, checking for breeding places.  We carry out fogging in the evenings; we carry out fogging in the early mornings,” Michael said.

Noting that so far there are no cases of dengue fever in the country, Michael said, “We are mindful of the fact that the world is inter-dependent, inter-connected and this can influence the spread of public health events.”

Speaking on OBSERVER AM, the chief health inspector said dengue fever can be prevented but the mosquitoes must be dealt with. “We are working with different government agencies to assist us to deal with the mosquito problem. First and foremost is the Pesticide Control Board, Public Works, Ministry of Agriculture, Development Control Authority, and the National Solid Waste Management Authority.”

The Aedes Aegypti, identifiable by its white-striped legs, is the mosquito responsible for the spread of dengue fever.

According to Michael, surveys show that the communities of St Phillip’s South, St Mary’s South and Cedar Grove have particularly high infestation levels of that mosquito.

Symptoms of dengue are flu-like but severe and include back pain, fever, retro-orbital (eye) pain, and severe joint pains.

“People should not take chances. If the symptoms persist for a long time they should seek medical attention,” was Michael’s recommendation.

Meantime, Chairman of the Pesticide and Toxic Control Board Dr Malverne Spencer, said the chemical used in fogging, Malathion, is a fairly safe pesticide.

“It is something that is being reviewed in that there are complaints about issues. But to date it is something that is still sanctioned by the WTO,” he said.

Dr Spencer said his agency’s duty is to control the importation of pesticide products into the country and to ensure that the products are safe for use.

“We are responsible for assessing these products and determining that they will pose minimum risk to human health and the environment in Antigua & Barbuda.”

Dr Spencer also took aim at the misuse of household pesticides. “Antiguans in general refer to them as flit and it is something that we all love (but) we just overuse them,” he said. “Just like any other pesticide they are very dangerous and so their use should be guarded.”

Michael added that while these aerosols produce immediate effects, the long-term price might be too much to pay. Many ailments, he said, can be traced back to the misuse of these pesticides. “The symptoms are many and varied. The problem is, they are not dissimilar to symptoms from (other) disease; things like headache, nausea, vomiting, etcetera,” he said “The long-term effects can be things like various kinds of cancers.”

Rather than using flit to solve our problems Spencer encouraged people to look at other methods. “One of the cheapest methods is exclusion. Simple things like screens (can prevent) the mosquito from getting in.” he said. “You might think that it is expensive initially but over the long term period it would be the cheaper method.”

In January 2008 there were three reported incidents of dengue fever in Antigua and Barbuda.