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| Last Updated:12/04/2014

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Health Hub: The sting of the vector-borne



Diseases like Malaria and Dengu are on the wane but remain a threat


In a list of the many things that give the city’s residents sleepless nights, mosquitoes would probably be at the top. The bites are bad, but the diseases that they bring along are worse.


“Small bite: big threat” is how the World Health Organisation describes vectors. With just one bite, these vectors can transmit diseases like malaria, dengue, and Japanese encephalitis. The health authority says that diseases spread by vectors kill a million people every year and more than half of the world’s population is at risk.


The State, too, has witnessed outbreaks of chikungunya and dengue. On its part, the health department has learned lessons from these outbreaks, and over the years, initiated measures to strengthen its surveillance and disease control mechanisms.


Today, health officials say there has been a drop in the case load of vector-borne diseases.


“There has been nearly a 1/4 drop in malaria cases, while dengue has reduced by 50 per cent when compared to previous years. The number of outbreaks has come down,” a senior health official says.


He points out that people in different walks of life have realised that mosquitoes and vector-borne diseases are not just a problem of the health department but also for everyone.


S. Elango, former director of public health, says that the tropical climate facilitates the fast growth of mosquitoes.


“Malaria is still a threat to Tamil Nadu. What is needed is integration of various departments to work for the prevention and management of vector-borne diseases, such as the directorates of medical services, public health, municipal administration and rural development,” he says.


Despite immense progress made in the medical field, most doctors have one thing to say in common about the state of the country’s health: there is still a long way to go in combating vector-borne diseases.


The most common of these, malaria, dengue and chikungunya, still affect a huge section of the population.


So how does one go about dealing with those pesky mosquitoes that are such a large part of the problem?


For those living in buildings, collective responsibility is key.


“Residents of the building should ensure that all overhead tanks are closed and all wells are hermetically sealed. Buildings often have coconut shells and discarded tyres lying about. These could easily become mosquito breeding sources and should be got rid of,” a senior health official says.


But attention should also be paid to the area around the building. Any stagnant water or stored water within a radius of 100 metres from your premises should be cleared.


“Ideally, water should be stored for less than three days. If it is left beyond seven days, mosquito breeding can take place. In fresh water, malaria-causing mosquitoes breed, and in other kinds of water, biting mosquitoes can breed,” he says.


Inside the house, it’s another story altogether. V. Ramasubramanian, senior consultant, infectious diseases, Apollo Hospitals, says it is crucial to clear garbage as soon as possible and to cover all organic waste before disposing of it.


“Never store water uncovered,” he adds.


On measures to get rid of mosquitoes, he believes that the only scientifically proven anti-mosquito measure is the bed net.


“While repellents that are sprayed or plugged in are commonly used, there is no scientific data to show that they prevent mosquito bites,” he says. “If you live in a mosquito-dense area, a net is ideal,” he adds.