Spartans VS. Mosquitoes: MSU Researchers Battle Mosquito Borne Virus
Published: Monday, 23 Apr 2012
Severe headache, intense pain behind the eyes, muscle and bone pain, joint pain, high fever, rash and mild bleeding of the nose or gums are all symptoms of dengue fever, leaving little doubt as to why the disease is also known as break-bone fever and bone crusher disease.
Painful and potentially fatal, dengue fever is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected mosquitoes. It is a leading cause of illness and death in the tropics and subtropics. Annually, dengue fever is estimated to infect 100 million people and cause 25,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and with more than one-third of the world’s population living in areas at risk for transmission, it is a resurgent disease.
In the past 25 years, there have been 1.3 million cases of dengue fever in Vietnam. That includes 79,000 cases contracted in 2009.
The moist tropical climate in Vietnam creates ideal conditions for the mosquitoes that carry the dengue virus, but there are additional factors that contribute to the pervasiveness of the disease in Vietnam. A contributing factor is improper water storage. Many Vietnamese store water in large containers. Rain water also collects in discarded rubber ties and coconut shells. If water containers are not properly covered and items that collect water around a household are not properly removed, they make perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
While the number of dengue fever cases in recent years has risen in most Vietnamese provinces and skyrocketed in some places, there is one village where there has been an equally significant decrease in dengue fever cases. The Hoa An village, located in the Mekong Delta in southwest Vietnam, went from having 15 cases of dengue fever per thousand inhabitants in 2005 to having two cases per thousand inhabitants in 2009 — an 87 percent decrease. Making those results even more striking is that the overall district within which the village is located had a statistically significant increase in 2009. So, Hoa An went from having three times the rate of cases as the overall district in 2005 to having one-third the rate of cases as the overall district in 2009.
The decline in Hoa An’s dengue fever cases is the result of a community campaign led by Michigan State University researchers, in partnership with Can Tho University faculty at the Hoa An Research Station. The project staff, who are focused on integrating school reform with community development, teach students and community volunteers how to safely store water in a manner that prevents access to mosquitoes and how to eliminate existing larvae. After training, the students and volunteers visit households on a regular basis to monitor water storage, check for the presence of larvae, eliminate existing larvae and train families how to monitor their own houses. In addition, Dengue Fever Prevention Clubs were established in schools in order to train students.
In the past three years, in areas where there are student Dengue Fever Prevention Clubs, dengue fever has been reduced significantly and not one of the students in the clubs has contracted the disease. Now, schools are integrating dengue fever education into the curriculum.
Each year since the dengue fever campaign began in 2005, hamlet leaders and community volunteers have assumed greater responsibility for the project. Now, the MSU and Can Tho University project staff play only a supporting role for community leaders who carry out the project duties in collaboration with local schools.
“The whole idea of the campaign was to educate the community, mobilize the community and provide support in a variety of ways, so that the people in the community could monitor what they’re doing themselves,” said Chris Wheeler, professor emeritus of education. “As a result, we have this terrific reduction in dengue fever, and we have a much better educated community.”
MSU researchers have successfully approached other projects in Vietnam in the same manner — an integration of school reform and community development. For example, their campaign to improve household incomes by diversifying income generating activities utilized a plan with the same three components as the dengue fever campaign:
• A community development component using
micro-credit projects to diversify household income
• A teaching and educational component that links
schools and communities and involves active learning.
• A project component to implement the strategies in the
community and get the desired results.
Wheeler said it is rewarding to work with the university staff that is assembled in Vietnam, as well as the dedicated students and volunteers. And it is especially rewarding to see the progress they have made to benefit the community.
“Whether it’s reducing dengue fever or improving household incomes or seeing the students’ learning increase and watching them do these activities,” Wheeler said, “those are all personally very rewarding experiences.”