The Vector Control Unit in the Ministry of Health has stepped up its efforts to rid the island of mosquito breeding sites and is reaping some success.
Chief Environmental Health Officer, Tyrone Applewhaite, says that in terms of houses identified as positive for mosquito breeding, the index is currently below two. With an index of below two, the likelihood of an epidemic is low, he explains.
However, if that number rises above five, then an epidemic is likely.
He notes that even though the average across the island may be below two, at some localities, it can be as high as 10, and that is why the Unit is now utilising a Geographic Information System (GIS) which allows it to provide a much more targeted response to high risk areas.
???With this system, we are able to identify the areas specifically where there are problems and to target those districts. The GIS is now being upgraded and soon we will not only be able to identify the district but also the specific houses where the problem is located and so we will be much more strategic in our response,??? Mr. Applewhaite says.
A pilot project to be launched next month will further assist the Unit in more quickly identifying and responding to problem areas. Health inspectors will be equipped with 30 palm pilots, which will allow them while in the field to download information immediately to computers in the Vector Control Unit.
Mr. Applewhaite says that while at the moment the Unit is about four days behind in terms of updating information, with these devices the information will be received immediately and the Unit will therefore be better able to track trends.
The Unit is also making inroads in its efforts to control mosquito breeding in underground utility junction boxes. According to Mr. Applewhaite, there are about 3,400 junction boxes owned by utility companies and these manholes are breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
???We have developed a programme with the utility companies, which consists of continuing education and training of their staff to identify and inspect these boxes. We also advise them in terms of the chemicals they should use and we developed an inspection form which they use to send information to us. We also have an officer assigned from our unit to work with them. As a result, we have seen a significant reduction in mosquito breeding in manholes.???
One challenge with which the Unit continues to grapple however, relates to underground domestic water storage tanks, some of which, the Chief Environmental Officer explains, can hold up to 6,000 gallons of water and can be huge breeding sites for mosquitoes.
???Critical to the success of any mosquito eradication programme is the level of cooperation of householders. Last year, we disseminated 100,000 inspection guidelines to householders to take them through the steps to prevent mosquito breeding on their properties.???
He reminds householders with underground water storage tanks that an important measure they can take to screen mosquitoes from these tanks is to place mesh over the tanks??? flow pipes and also over the inlets where the water comes off the roofs and into the tanks.
In its effort to control the mosquito population, the Unit pays particular attention to the perimeters of the ports of entry, ensuring that these areas around the airport and seaport are mosquito-free in order to prevent the insects getting on to ships or aircraft. The inspectors also monitor 240 wet spots island-wide.
The latest statistics reveal a downward trend in the number of cases of dengue fever, which is caused by the aedes aegypti mosquito. There were 90 confirmed cases between January and May this year, compared to the 1,140 recorded for all of last year.
Senior Medical Officer of Health with responsibility for Epidemiology and Surveillance, Dr. Karen Springer, attributed the decrease to the work of the Vector Control Unit, along with better household practices and low rainfall.