Biting truth about Aedes threats: The Star

An aedes aegypti mosquito.
An aedes aegypti mosquito. PHOTO: REUTERS

In its editorial on Feb 7, The Star urges everyone to stop being breeders of mosquitoes.

Despite causing over 300 deaths in Malaysia last year, plus a great deal of discomfort to tens of thousands of others in the country, dengue fever is apparently not scary enough.

Maybe the threat of the Zika virus will be more effective in persuading us to quit being breeders of mosquitoes.

And if that does not happen, perhaps we need to get our heads examined.

For many years, we have been bombarded with version after version of the same message – that the best prevention of dengue is to avoid mosquito bites, and the ultimate measure is to eliminate places where mosquitoes lay eggs.

However, we seem to have built up an immunity to such clear logic.

Let us look at the numbers, for if you ask mathematicians, everything is indeed a game of numbers.

In 2011, there were just under 20,000 reported cases of dengue in Malaysia, of which 35 resulted in deaths.

The total cases have risen in each of the four years since then.

There is definitely cause for alarm. Last year saw almost 121,000 dengue cases, with 336 people losing their lives to the disease.

The authorities said 55 per cent of mosquito-breeding grounds were inside homes and their compounds.

It is as if we are inviting a killer into our households.

Maybe many of us have a higher risk appetite and are willing to take our chances with dengue, but can we afford to be cavalier with the possibility of assigning our unborn children to a lifetime of difficulties?

When infected by the Zika virus, which is primarily spread by the Aedes mosquito, you are likely to complain of symptoms such as a mild fever, skin rash and conjunctivitis, for less than a week.

That is not so terrible, but what should get your attention is the strong suspicion that women who get the disease during pregnancy may give birth to babies with abnormally small heads.

This condition is called microcephaly. It is usually because the brain has not grown properly, and this may lead to slow development, learning disabilities, problems with movement and balance, and several other medical issues.

Scientists have yet to prove that the Zika virus triggers microcephaly.

But the high incidence of such births in French Polynesia in 2013 and in Brazil last year following large outbreaks of the Zika virus disease, was enough for the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

This is one instance when fear of the unknown is wise, when it is better to be safe than to be sure.

When making that declaration on Feb 1, WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan said: “At present, the most important protective measures are the control of mosquito populations and the prevention of mosquito bites in at-risk individuals, especially pregnant women.”

In other words, we have before us a two-in-one deal – reduce the places where mosquitoes breed and we can better combat both dengue and the Zika virus disease.

Really, do we still need more incentives to protect ourselves and our loved ones, including those yet to be brought into this world?

The Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers seeking to promote coverage of Asian affairs.