Malaria, Dengue and Chagas, Oh My!

Viruses and other diseases have been in the news this past week because of the horrible impact that they have on children. In America, there are so many diseases that we are unaccustomed to because we have done such a good job of getting rid of them. An example would be polio, which had a devastating effect until we basically eradicated it in the US decades ago.  April 7th is World Health Day for the World Health Organization and so I thought it a good topic to cover.

The focus of World Health Day this year is vector-borne diseases. “Who, what now?”, you say. Vectors are organisms that pass on disease agents and parasites from one organism to another. An example would be malaria, which is caused by a parasite passed to humans by mosquitoes. Many of us here in America know about malaria and how deadly it is, but it’s not something that we have to grapple with on our soil.

“Why should I care?” Imagine that you decide to vacay this summer in Florida and you go out at dusk because you want to watch the sun set. You forget your repellent, but you don’t much worry about it because a few mosquito bites won’t be more than an annoyance for you and the kids. Think again. Dengue fever has been found in South Florida and has been spreading. So while you don’t need to scrap that Florida trip, you do need to try to prevent your exposure as much as possible. Dengue has also spread to other states as well, so it would be a good idea to check the health department of your destination for any announcements about disease outbreaks or mosquito control efforts in that area.

Dengue fever is currently the fastest growing vector-borne disease and is mainly found in tropical and sub-tropical areas.  In 2013, it was actually found in Florida and about 500,000 severe cases worldwide are hospitalized each year- most of which are children. Caused by a virus, it is also transmitted by mosquitoes. Another example would be Chagas disease.  This disease is found mostly in Latin America and is caused by a protozoan parasite which is passed to humans by an insect known as the “kissing bug” in many areas.

There aren’t many vaccinations available. Only two are available for malaria and yellow fever. Prevention is the key. The Centers for Disease control offers these tips for avoiding exposure:

  1. Avoid outbreak areas
  2. Make sure that you know the peak exposure times and places.
  3. Wear clothing that is appropriate
  4. Don’t forget to check for ticks
  5. Use bed nets where possible
  6. Use repellents on your body or in your area

Most of these tips are self-explanatory, but I would like to offer resources for choosing an insect repellent for pregnant women and babies. Check out this site from the EPA and another. Also, see these CDC suggestions and information from the National Pesticide Information Center. In addition to these harsh chemicals, there are also natural repellents that you can make or purchase, though they may not be approved by the FDA and will require a little research.

It seems so far out. We live in America for goodness sake! There’s access to clean water and modern medicine. We religiously carry around hand sanitizer and have chemicals to keep our houses so clean that it could actually leave our kids weak.   Bugs don’t care about that stuff. Whether you believe in climate change or not, it is still occurring. As the weather warms, it is estimated that the number of people made sick by vector-borne diseases will grow.

In case you need more motivation to engage in preparation, check this out and this. So as you think on this topic, I would like you to ponder what simple steps you are willing to take to protect your children and yourself? Also, are you willing to help with World Malaria Day on April 25, 2014 to help another child?Image








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