A public health professional with 35 years’ experience says it would have been best if children were not in school during the dengue outbreak, the worst St. Vincent and the Grenadines has seen in eight years.
Of the 374 persons who have been laboratory confirmed as having the mosquito-borne viral illness, more than half are persons under the age of 15 and anecdotal evidence suggests that many of them are contracting the illness at school.
Speaking on the main opposition New Democratic Party’s radio programme on Tuesday, Harvey Farrell, a retired health educator, noted that the country is experiencing the dengue outbreak even as it is still in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“… so it makes dengue even more critical for us… Why I say so? It’s because a number of the early symptoms of the dengue fever are also similar to what we can have in COVID,” Farrell said on NICE Radio.
“And the fact that our children are back into school already can even make it worse for us,” he said.
He noted that the Ministry of Education has a COVID-19 protocol that requires the recording of students’ temperature on arrival at school, daily, and steps that should be followed once the student has an elevated temperature.
He said that the number of laboratory confirmed cases is not a true reflection of the prevalence of dengue, adding, “… it means that we can multiply that by a number of factors, it could be by four, it could be by two”.
Farrell pointed out that further tests would be required to determine whether a person with an elevated temperature has dengue, COVID-19 or another illness.
The Ministry of Health has said that anyone treated at a public healthcare facility with symptoms of dengue is also administered a test for COVID-19.
“Ideally –and this is from my own judgment as a public health practitioner — it would have been best if our children were not at school now.
“The school plant is an area where dengue can spread very, very easily. And I’ll tell you why. It is because of the habit of the mosquito we have that spreads the disease, the aedes aegypti mosquito.”
Farrell noted that the mosquito bites mainly in the daylight hours.
“Of course, it would bite at night, given good light, but mainly it’s in the day light hours. The mosquito lives in and around where people habitate (sic). They don’t travel very far from where people are. So a school plant provides easy access and the mosquito likes to hide in dark areas. Or areas where we are.”
Farrell said that the aedes aegypti mosquito likes to hide in dark places.
“So they will hide under the desk. The mosquito, at that time, will bite normally around the ankles. So when we have children going to school, perhaps it is a good thing for them to wear socks.
“I know a lot of people go for fashion these days, people wear short skirts, we perhaps need to look at our teachers.”
He said that while he did not know the demography of those who have been diagnosed with dengue, he would bet that teachers make up a large number of the adult population.
“…because the teachers are right there at school too. And if teachers are wearing short skirts and so on — I will even say now more female teachers would be impacted than male teachers.
“The same thing in offices, so if you are going to tell persons at this time we must be protecting ourselves form the bite of the aedes aegypti mosquito, we have to look at the way we dress, to go to the office because it is the same way they will hide under the desk and bite you during the course of the day.”
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Health said it had written one day earlier to the Ministry of Education, suggesting that students be allowed to wear long trousers and long sleeves to school.
Farrell noted the aedes aegypti mosquito’s reproduction habit, adding that it would lay eggs even in a moist container.
“The container does not necessarily have to have water. Once it’s moist, the mosquito will lay her eggs there and a female mosquito may lay bout three or four times in their life cycle and each time, a mosquito can lay up to about 100 eggs.”
Farrell said that the eggs can survive for up to seven months in dry conditions.
“But, as soon as the container becomes flooded, the eggs will emerge and with that it only takes between when the container has been flooded and the time when an adult mosquito emerges; it’s just about seven days,” he said.