Dengue prevention becomes household chore

Sri Lanka has launched a massive community prevention campaign targeting dengue fever using billboards, TV spots and even schoolchildren.



"I have made my parents clean up the garden," said Kasun Dilhan, a seven-year-old pupil at Maeliya Public School, in the northwestern Kurunegala District about 150km from the capital Colombo. "We also make sure the school and other areas like the temple are cleaned."



After a 10-year peak in 2009, and with cases even higher through to the end of this July - 24,520 cases compared with last year's 22,256 in the same timeframe - the government has made control of the vector-borne disease a national priority.



The Ministry of Health has declared the third week of August national dengue prevention week and launched efforts to clean up breeding grounds, also involving the armed forces and police.



"Our final aim is to stop the spread right at the source with public participation," Sudath Peiris, an official with the Dengue Prevention Unit of the Health Ministry's Epidemiology Unit, told IRIN. "We feel that with public help the spread can be brought under control."



National radio and TV channels broadcast awareness messages and tips on how to detect dengue infections early, while at the Maeliya school, teachers have incorporated dengue awareness work into the students' extracurricular activities.



"Fortunately we have not heard of any dengue deaths in our areas," Priyantha Rajapaksa, the principal, said. "But we want to be safe."



Experts say vigilance must be maintained over the coming months as rains are expected. "When the rains come, the breeding areas tend to multiply, that is when we need to be extra-vigilant," Peiris said.



Eliminating breeding places of the breeding places of the female Aedes mosquitoe, vector for the four viruses that can cause dengue, is the most effective way of controlling an outbreak. Anything that holds water - jars, buckets, flower vases, plant saucers and even discarded yoghurt cups - are breeding grounds for dengue mosquitoes.



According to the World Health Organization, there is no effective vaccine again dengue available or drug treatment for those who become infected.



The only way to prevent dengue virus transmission is to combat the disease-carrying mosquitoes, says the UN health body.



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