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Children in India Helping to Prevent Dengue Fever

Several school districts in India are being asked to take proactive steps to contain Dengue fever locally as monsoon season approaches.

Former US president Herbert Hoover once described children as the world’s “most valuable resource.”

Now, in some parts of the world, children have become key cogs in the efforts to educate the public on and prevent outbreaks of troubling infectious diseases—and not for the first time.

According to a May 3rd report in the Indian newspaper, The Hindu, several school districts in the Asian country are being asked to take proactive steps to contain Dengue fever locally as monsoon season approaches. The warm, humid weather conditions that characterize monsoon season in the region provide the perfect breeding ground for Dengue vector mosquitoes, and the virus has been the source of public health challenges in many parts of India in the past.

According to The Hindu report, a recent notice sent by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation to schools in its jurisdiction requested that the heads of education institutes (public and private) “nominate nodal teachers to monitor vector-control measures” in the schools. As part of the initiative, schools are required to clean desert coolers (air cooling systems used in warmer climates) at least once a week and ensure they are mopped dry prior to filling (the systems typically use water to generate cool air). In cases in which coolers cannot be emptied, schools are asked to treat the water with one tablespoon of petrol/ kerosene and/or temephos granules (a larvicide commonly used to treat water); cleaning and/or treating the coolers is designed to disrupt the breeding cycle of the Aedes mosquito, which has been linked with Dengue.

In addition, all schools have been asked to give “dengue cards” to all students. The cards are designed as a resource the children can use—with their parents—to perform basic dengue control inspections in their homes, searching for potential mosquito breeding grounds, such as stagnating water and birdcages (birdkeeping is common in much of Asia). Researchers from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak in Malaysia have demonstrated that mosquito larvae can grow in bird feces dropped into birdcage water bowls. Earlier studies found various developmental stages of the Aedes mosquito in the water containers of birdcages.

According to experts, India is not the first country to use schools and children to spearhead these kinds of infection control efforts. “The use of school children to promote campaigns against the Aedes mosquito is a well-established aspect of Dengue outbreak preparedness and response,” said Amesh A. Adalja, MD, FIDSA, FACP, FACEP, Senior Associate, Center for Health Security, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). “In prior US outbreaks, for example, children were enlisted to urge parents to eliminate standing water—a site for the Aedes mosquito to bread. Innovative outreach to children through plays, contests, and cartoon figures were used in both Texas and Florida and should remain a part of Dengue response.”

Brian P. Dunleavy is a medical writer and editor based in New York. His work has appeared in numerous healthcare-related publications. He is the former editor of Infectious Disease Special Edition.