EDITORIAL – Killer disease

It’s a rainy December, and with the rains come the mosquitoes. Among the mosquitoes is the white-spotted Aedes aegypti, which transmits the virus that causes dengue fever. The disease killed nearly 1,500 people in the warm and humid regions of Asia in 1998. Health officials earlier warned that the toll this year could approach the same figure.

In the Philippines, the Department of Health said 40,000 cases of dengue have been reported from January to November this year — an increase of 11.7 percent from the 37,538 in the same period in 2006. From January to October this year, 290 deaths from dengue have been recorded, the DOH reported. That figure is pretty high for a disease that can be contained if diagnosed accurately and early enough.

There lies one of the problems in preventing dengue from claiming lives. Symptoms of the disease are often dismissed as ordinary flu until signs specific to dengue appear. Often, by that time it is too late to stop the massive bleeding and shock that precede death. Many who are infected with the dengue virus are also too poor to afford the blood test that is necessary for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Governments can focus on prevention, through mosquito-eradication programs that include fumigation and the cleanup of areas with stagnant water that serve as mosquito breeding grounds. An information campaign is useful for the early detection of symptoms and treatment. Simply drinking a lot of fluids can help. Local governments must take the lead in information, cleanup and fumigation programs. School administrators must also conduct sustained programs to reduce the risks of mosquito infestation by ensuring that the school grounds are always clean.

Like cockroaches, mosquitoes cannot be completely eradicated. But it’s possible to reduce the risks of contracting a potentially fatal mosquito-borne disease. Asia contained the 1998 epidemic. From that experience, and with relentless effort, a similar tragedy can be prevented.

EDITORIAL
The Philippine Star

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