By Melissa Rollock
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) — A new strain of dengue fever, climate change and “less than exemplary practices” by some householders have resulted in over 600 confirmed cases of the mosquito-borne illness as of September 21 this year, compared to 233 cases in 2012.
Speaking at a press briefing on Tuesday to give an update on Influenza A H1N1 and dengue fever, Chief Medical Officer Dr Joy St John explained that these factors had created the “perfect storm”, resulting in the increase in dengue cases.
She said that studies done by local environmental health specialists with responsibility for vector control showed that the “Bajan” mosquito was developing and going through its cycle of maturity faster. However, she noted this was not peculiar to Barbados since there were similar reports in other countries.
“The effect of climate change on the mosquito is probably part of the reason why we have seen some of this increase. It is almost like a perfect storm because we also have the issue of the rainfall, the issue of less than exemplary practices because this mosquito is domesticated… We need to work with householders to eradicate all sources of breeding.
“The third issue is that the particular strain of the dengue virus has not been around in circulation, so there are several Barbadians who can now be affected by strain No. 1 – it was strain No. 2 last time – and that is why we are seeing so many cases… as compared to last year,” St John said.
Chief Environmental Health Officer, Tyrone Applewhaite, said his department was intensifying its efforts to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito by doing inspections in high risk areas in addition to conducting weekend inspections. He lamented that one of the major hindrances in their daily duties was the inability to gain access to some properties because persons were at work.
Applewhaite said this amounted to as many as 60 percent of homes being closed in certain areas, but in general the average was about 30 percent. Additionally, the rate on weekends was approximately 24 percent, he noted.
He disclosed that officers in the Environmental Health Department were in the process of developing “a card” that would assist them in getting in contact with the owners of these closed houses.
“We must agree that if there is a high level of mosquito breeding in a general area, we can also assume that those closed houses are also breeding mosquitoes,” he stated.
The department will be embarking on an initiative dubbed the vector free schools programme from this week where they will be meeting with principals of public and private primary and secondary schools in an effort to develop a framework for mosquito control.
“We have trained many of the ancillary staff associated with those schools so we are now looking to bring the principals on board to ensure that we have an effective vector control programme in the schools. A number of those persons who have dengue are students.
“We are also working with the University of the West Indies. We have just trained 45 persons [there] and we will be establishing an overtrapping programme at the university to monitor the mosquito activity there so that we can also be on top of the situation. We will also be set up a Facebook page so we can establish a relationship with the general public,” he said.
The chief environmental health officer noted that while dengue cases were up, complaints were down which suggested that Barbadians were not in a state of panic.
Minister of Health John Boyce implored home owners and property owners to do their part in reversing the situation by making sure that stagnant water did not remain unattended on their properties.
“We have a national responsibility to respond to this outbreak and make sure that we manage our personal situations correctly and get involved in neighbourhood solutions,” he emphasised.